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Smiles all round at Malta’s first transgender wedding

Joanne Cassar, who fought a seven-year legal battle to get transgender people the right to marry. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiJoanne Cassar, who fought a seven-year legal battle to get transgender people the right to marry. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A bride and groom sneaked away from their reception on Saturday to look at their smiling guests from a distance and soak up the landmark moment – for their happy day was also Malta’s first transgender marriage.

The 45-year-old transgender bride, who preferred not to be named after receiving hurtful comments in the past, wept with joy at being able to marry her partner of 13 years.

“It was a very emotional moment,” she told Times of Malta. “I was very calm but, when I arrived at the venue and saw my husband and all the smiling guests, I couldn’t contain myself any longer.”

Her mobile phone has not stopped ringing, with people offering their warmest congratulations and saying her wedding was one of the loveliest they had ever attended.

“It was such a unique experience. I wish I could have the wedding all over again,” she smiled.

I hope the wedding of my friend and her husband serves as a mirror to other countries that haven’t yet adopted the law

The couple got engaged two years after they met and have been living together ever since in a house they bought together.

Two years ago, they planned to go to Belgium to get married.

However, the woman continued, word was getting around that the law might be changed and the couple decided to put their plans on hold.

Last year, the government amended the Civil Code to ensure the recognition of transgender people as individuals of the acquired sex with full rights, including the right to marry.

This had brought an end to campaigner Joanne Cassar’s seven-year legal wrangle for the right to marry.

Present at the wedding was Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who tweeted: “Proud to have attended Malta’s first civil marriage of a transgender person following the change in law by the government. Saw two happy families.”

The guests also included Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli and her staff and the Parliamentary Secretary for Research and Innovation, Stefan Buontempo.

“I’m extremely grateful to the Labour government. They were the ones who enabled my big day to happen,” the newlywed said. Also present at the wedding was a delighted Ms Cassar, who felt as if she had won her battle for the right to marry all over again. The guests applauded her for paving the way.

“The atmosphere was beautiful. I was very emotional. It was a beautiful present to be invited to the wedding.”

A number of people mistakenly thought she was the one who got married, flooding her with congratulatory messages.

“My wedding will be held next year, on March 31, Freedom Day,” she smiled.

Ms Cassar’s battle for marriage started soon after she and her former partner applied for the wedding banns.

The Marriage Registrar refused to issue them even though Ms Cassar had legally changed her gender to female on her birth certificate after surgery.

Her wedding was planned for December 2007. In February of that year, she won a civil case in which the court ordered the registrar to issue the wedding banns but the decision was overturned on appeal in May 2008.

In May 2011, the Constitutional Court held that although Ms Cassar’s rights had been breached, this was due to shortcomings in the law to cater for some form of partnership for people in her situation.

It did not result that the banns should have been issued.

She then took the case the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR had asked the then Nationalist government if it wanted to reach an agreement but the government stuck to its argument, that marriage can only take place between a biological man and a woman.

On April 3, the new Labour government announced it had reached a settlement agreement with Ms Cassar and she subsequently withdrew her case from the ECHR.

“In the end, good always triumphs.

“I hope that the wedding of my friend and her husband serves as a mirror to other countries that haven’t yet adopted the law,” said Ms Cassar.

“I couldn’t accept that I had to be dictated to by others on how to live my life. We are all equal. My friend is sharing her love with her family and close friends. By marrying, we aren’t hurting anyone.”

Looking back at her seven-year long ordeal, Ms Cassar marvels at the courage she had.

“It’s not easy to fight the government. I felt as if I were fighting my own country. The case at the ECHR was headed ‘Joanne Cassar vs Malta’. It was very painful.

“I have no words with which to thank the Prime Minister. People used to view us as ‘dirty’. He taught a lesson to a lot of people.

“We are normal, we have a heart and we can respect and love.”

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