Gay rights lobbyists hail Bill’s ­­­‘fulfilled aspirations’

Celebrations in Valletta tonight

Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Gay rights campaigners have hailed the “fulfilled aspirations” of the Marriage Equality Bill and the message it sends to the community to enjoy life without fear.

The island will become the 25th country in the world, and the 15th in Europe, to legalise same-sex marriage when Parliament takes its final vote on the Bill this evening.

A day after conservative groups staged a small silent protest outside Parliament in opposition to the law, celebrations – organised by the government – will take place in Castille Square, Valletta, after the vote, mirroring and completing the festivities that greeted civil unions three years ago.

“LGBTIQ people aren’t raised differently because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics – most still hold marriage to be the institution that best expresses the commitment and love that a couple have for each other,” Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) coordinator, Gabi Calleja, told the Times of Malta.

“So, while the civil union legislation will still be there for those who prefer it, marriage equality is what truly meets our aspirations as far as the equal recognition of same-sex couples is concerned,” she added.

The Bill, piloted by Equality Minister Helena Dalli, aims to “modernise the institution of marriage” so that all consenting adult couples would have the right to enter into marriage.

Homosexuality is no reason to feel or be treated as inferior

It will bring sweeping changes to the Marriage Act and several other laws, ensuring that references to husband, wife, mother and father become gender neutral, among other things.

This has provoked opposition from some within the Nationalist Party who sought to retain the gendered terminology alongside new terms such as “spouse” and “parent”.

MP Edwin Vassallo voted against the Bill at second reading last week and there have been growing calls for a free vote this evening.

The party, which included same-sex marriage in its electoral manifesto, has stood firm and will expect all its MPs to vote in favour.

Significantly, after the PN abstention on civil unions in 2014, this means that all three parties in Parliament are united in broad support of marriage equality.

“The fact that all parties in Malta agree on the main premise emboldens the gay community to come out of hiding and to start living and enjoying life without fear,” Aditus director, Neil Falzon, said.

“It also confirms the importance of NGOs in tirelessly and selflessly working for a society where all persons are able to enjoy their fundamental human rights.”

Dr Falzon said the prohibition of same-sex marriage had always been a major challenge for the community, representing a deep-set social and political belief that heterosexuals were “superior, privileged, correct”.

“Together with the immediate benefit to those couples seeking equal state recognition of their relationships, marriage equality sends a clear message to everyone: homosexuality is no reason to feel, or be treated as, inferior, deprived, incorrect,” he continued.

Nevertheless, Dr Falzon reiterated criticism Aditus has made on the specifics of the Bill.

“We are particularly frustrated that it supports the exclusion of undocumented migrants from marriage and it conveniently retains the discrimination in Malta’s citizenship legislation against migrant women and children born out of wedlock,” he said.

“A more honest legislative process would have ensured more ownership and effectiveness of the Bill’s intentions,” Dr Falzon remarked.

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