Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator, Gabi Calleja
Malta is joining in the shift in attitude that has spread over Europe in accepting the reality of same-sex families, according to Silvan Agius, a policy director of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans- and Intersex Association of Europe. A MaltaToday survey last week found 60% of 18- to 34-year-olds agreed with the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples, in a clear indication of a generation gap in values that finds just 23% of those over 55 years in similar agreement.
Most importantly, the survey shows support for gay marriage increasing by 13 points since 2007, when the first MaltaToday survey on this issue was conducted.
But overall, an absolute majority of 51.2% is opposed to the introduction of gay marriages while 42% agree with gay marriage. And those in favour of same-sex marriages include a significant 9% who specified that they agree with the introduction of same-sex marriage but disagree with these couples adopting children.
"It may appear 'astounding' as MaltaToday reported, but only when comparing Maltese attitudes today with those of the Maltese public some time ago. The truth though is that such a shift has taken place across all Western societies, Malta included," Agius told MaltaToday.
Seven European countries have already adopted gender-neutral marriage laws, providing equal rights and recognition to same-sex and different-sex couples. Others such as Finland, Denmark and Luxembourg currently have draft laws for adoption tabled in parliament, while the French President Francois Hollande has committed France to follow suit in the next year. Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom are conducting public consultations on the opening of marriage to same-sex couples as well.
Agius says it's representative of a huge transnational shift towards equal recognition of all families.
"It's happening all around Malta, and the Maltese public knows that and none of the doom and gloom, such as the meltdown of heterosexual marriage, forecasted by those opposed to marriage of same-sex partners has taken place."
The coordinator of the Malta Gay Rights Movement Gabi Calleja also acknowledges the shift towards greater acceptance. "With respect to the increase in acceptance of marriage equality by the younger age group, the survey seems to mirror others carried out with university students which is encouraging. We do believe there's been a shift towards greater acceptance, but less so where parenting issues are concerned."
But although support for same-sex marriages is strongest among 18- to 34-year-olds, the largest increase in support was registered among 35- to 54-year-olds. Among this category, agreement with same-sex marriage has increased by a staggering 22 points since 2007 - when MaltaToday last carried out a similar survey.
The indications are that same-sex marriage, which so far is not embraced by any party, will become a key policy that future governments will find it hard to ignore. Agius is convinced about this.
"As time goes by, the Maltese public's awareness will lead them to ask: 'Why should marriage remain a heterosexual privilege rather than a universal right for couples who want to commit to one another?'"
Joseph Carmel Chetcuti, the author of A Queer History of Malta, charts the vicissitudes of the Maltese gay community, and says the "heartening" results of the survey were a direct consequence of more gay men and lesbians coming out and taking pride in their sexuality.
"Of course, not all gay men and lesbians are in favour of marriage. Some are strongly opposed to what is, after all, a patriarchal institution as some gay men and lesbians struggle to be like the rest of society rather than taking pride in their difference. But every gay man and lesbian should have the right to decide for themselves," Chetcuti told MaltaToday from Australia, where he practices law.
But, he adds, putting same-sex marriage on the agenda is another battle to be fought. "There is little doubt that we shall win the war against a conservative establishment with its outdated traditional values: values that do not respect the needs of each and every human being."
University lecturer and gay rights blogger Patrick Attard says it is interesting to note that percentage-wise there are twice as many Labour voters in favour of gay marriage than PN voters. Although 63% majority of Nationalist voters oppose same-sex marriages, nearly a third agree with this radical social reform, while 50% of Labour voters are in favour of gay marriages.
"It is important to note that we are almost completely invisible in the PN media," Attard says, who feels same-sex unions may be a defining criteria in the upcoming election. "It is important however to remain focused and not believe any last-minute promise before the upcoming election unless there are concrete results."
Undoubtedly, the feeling of an international wave of gay pride and support prompted by Barack Obama's move in favour of gay marriage in the United States, has had powerful results.
"Malta does not exist in a vacuum. There has been a global shift in legal and social attitudes towards the recognition of same-sex partners and their families," Silvan Agius says.
"The MGRM has worked incessantly to challenge myths about gays and lesbians, and same-sex unions... but very importantly, many Maltese people have gay and lesbian couples as their friends and share the sense of injustice when they learn about discrimination on parents' days, accessing a bank loan for a family home, or in filling joint tax forms. This first-hand experience makes the issues at stake real, and the need to address them pressing."