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Evarist Bartolo

Rights for gays: thank God for elections!

The PN knew that legislation to recognise civil partnerships for gays was to be included in the coming Labour Party electoral programme.

Evarist Bartolo
2 July 2012, 12:00am
Now that another election is in the offing, the PN has officially changed its homophobic policies.
On Tuesday Justice Minister Chris Said tabled the first reading of a cohabitation bill that will recognise new rights for unmarried couples, both straight and gay. The bill has not been tabled but only its title. The bill has yet to be discussed in the PN parliamentary group and the Cabinet.

The law is expected to provide civil rights for unmarried couples, which will now be formally recognised by the law if they are part of a stable relationship. Gay couples are set to have their relationship recognised at law.

Last November after losing the divorce referendum the PN approved a document saying that the State "must legislate wherever necessary to establish the rights and responsibilities of such relationships for both heterosexuals and homosexuals".

The PN knew that legislation to recognise civil partnerships for gays was to be included in the coming Labour Party electoral programme.

In January 2009 in parliament I criticised Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg for responding in a cynical and derisory manner to Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat who declared himself in favour of recognising the rights of gay or cohabitating couples during the debate on the rent reform legislation. Borg's homophobic attitude was in stark contrast to what the PN had told gay people during the 2008 electoral campaign.

Now that another election is in the offing, the PN has officially changed its homophobic policies. It has had to do that as it ended up on the wrong side of history on the divorce issue when it tried to do all it can to resist the introduction of this civil right in 21st century Malta.

When elections come around the PN tends to lose its traditional moral positions in its unscrupulous quest for votes. It had done the same in 1998 when it promised to legislate rights for cohabiting couples. It mentioned these rights during the divorce campaign to try and derail the 'Yes' movement.

On the eve of the 2008 election the PN leadership met representatives of the Malta Gay Rights Movement. The MGRM had submitted a list of proposals for the manifesto, but the most important for them had been the regulation and legal protection of such couples as enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. Malta needed other legislation on civil partnerships of cohabitating or gay couples. It was the lack absence of such legislation that led the Labour Party to call for the introduction of civil rights of cohabiting straight and gay couples.

Long-standing cohabitating couples were scared of the prospects of one of the partners' death and the ensuing effects, which could render the surviving partner homeless. While straight couples can take compassionate leave to look after a dying or very sick partner, gay couples cannot look after each other in hospital and when a partner lies on his/her deathbed the partner cannot be with him/her like others.

In March 2008, an EU report had said that Malta was one of seven countries in which protection from discrimination against homosexuals existed only in employment legislation.

The report, which urged that such protection be extended to other areas, specifically housing, had also said there existed no machinery in Malta for such protection.

The EU was proposing the insertion of a directive against discrimination of minorities, including gays. Till a short while ago the PN government was maintaining that the directive was still premature and that things should be allowed to mature before incorporating such a directive in Maltese law.

But at the pre-election meeting in 2008 with the MGRM the government had said it was in favour of such a directive.

Thank God for elections!

The author is shadow minister for education.

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