Justice Minister Chris Said launches Malta's first law to regulate cohabiting couples.
Adds comments by Labour
A consultation process has been launched over Malta's first act to regulate cohabiting partners, which is expected to be debated in parliament in October.
Justice Minister Chris Said said the new bill will not be providing an alternative to marriage, but safeguard the right of cohabiting partners.
In recognising same-sex partnerships, this is the first act that gives homosexual couples a standard form of recognition in terms of rights and obligations.
"It's a bill built upon facts... cohabitation has increased and it's up to government to provide these rights to people," Said said.
"We are declaring once and for all that cohabiting relationships are not illicit. Such couples have rights and duties, and the law will be looking at both de jure as well as de facto couples who have elected not to regulate their position with a contract. It's time to recognise these circumstances as well."
The law does not deal with the cohabitation of relatives, such as siblings or parent-child family units, but for couples in a committed relationship.
The law will provide such couples to enter into a civil cohabitation partnership once they sign a contract, but a de facto couple will be declared as such after a two-year relationship were one of the partners has one or more dependent children. In the rest of the cases, a civil partnership will be valid for couples that have been together for five years.
The law provides guidelines for the courts in the case of a partnership dissolution. The rights of former spouses will not be affected by the cohabitation contract.
The law however does not recognise such couples as families or family units. Asked what made this law different from a simple notarial contract between couples, Said said the law was not putting couples on same level as families.
"Yes, gay couples can make their own contract before a notary, but this bill provides for rights and duties and how courts can safeguard the rights of these partners and their children. This is a substantial step forward to safeguard the weaker party, in terms of a relationship that is now recognised by law."
In his reaction, independent MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando told MaltaToday that he has held lengthy discussions with justice minister Chris Said and raised a number of issues such as the recognition and registration of children living with same-sex couples.
Pullicino Orlando said "I would rather wait for the reaction of all stakeholders involved before revealing details of any amendments I will put forward. However, in my discussions with Chris Said I have raised the issue of child registration and these suggestions were received positively by the minister."
The independent MP added that he will be proposing such amendments at the appropriate moment during the forthcoming parliamentary debate and plans to meet the MGRM and individuals associated with gay rights for their reactions and suggestions.
On his part, Michael Briguglio, chairperson of Alternattiva Demokratika, said that the proposed registration of same-sex couples in the cohabitation bill was not enough. "While other parties propose civil unions or registered partnerships, AD is in synch with the proposals of the Malta Gay Rights Movement for recognition of same-sex marriage. Only the right of marriage represents equality."
Alternattiva Demokratika said it will be fully endorsing the MGRM's position regarding marriage equality and parenthood.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Labour Party said that the Opposition would be waiting for government to present the draft bill in parliament before making any comments.
"Joseph Muscat has long taken the lead and publicly stated that he is in favour of Civil Unions for gay couples. That position still stands," a spokesman added.