Equality bill heralds ‘revolutionary’ clampdown on discrimination

New Equality Act in the pipeline to grant more rights to discriminated people and clamp down on institutionalized discrimination.

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
27 April 2016, 9:29am
Silvan Agius: “There is honestly nothing controversial in the Equality Act – it is simply a response to our changing society and a way to ensure that equality becomes part and parcel of what it means to live in Malta.”
Silvan Agius: “There is honestly nothing controversial in the Equality Act – it is simply a response to our changing society and a way to ensure that equality becomes part and parcel of what it means to live in Malta.”
A new law is in the pipeline that will grant more rights to discriminated people and clamp down on institutionalized discrimination. Although it has not received the level of media coverage as the civil unions and gender identity laws, Silvan Agius, director of the Human Rights and Integration Directorate, believes that the Equality Act will prove to be the most crucial equality legislation in recent history. 

“It will be one law to regulate them all; it’s about setting standards across the board and organising our collective space,” Agius told MaltaToday. “Once it passes, people will have their minds at rest that any form of discrimination will be illegal.”  

A petition that has been promoted by Gift of Life president Paul Vincenti’s ‘New Christian Conservatives’ group claims that the law will indoctrinate children with an “LGBT+ agenda”. Two mothers who run the Facebook group ‘Save the Embryo Protection Act’ have warned that the law will open up IVF for single women, single men and same-sex couples. 

What will actually change in practice for vulnerable groups once the bill becomes law though? 

Notably, it will forbid businesses from discriminating against people when providing their services – currently only illegal in terms of gender and race. 

Therefore, a gay couple will be able to sue for discrimination if a restaurant kicks them out for kissing at table, if a florist refuses to sell them flowers, or if a baker refuses to sell them a cake. Older people will be able to sue for discrimination if they are refused entry to a public party. 

It will also introduce class action for discrimination lawsuits – which will allow people, unions and NGOs to sue people for discrimination on behalf of an individual or group. 

“If somebody says in public that they won’t employ black men, or that foreigners are stealing jobs from Maltese workers, the Malta Migrants’ Association will be able to sue for discrimination,” Agius said. “As it stands, discrimination cases can only be filed in court or with the Commission for the Promotion of Equality by the alleged victims. Class action could prove revolutionary for discrimination cases.” 

More than that, the law will allow people to sue for discrimination on the grounds of two combined identities. Therefore, a Muslim woman who thinks that she has been rejected for a job because she had worn a hijab to her interview will be able to sue the employer for discriminating against her because she is a Muslim woman. 

As it stands, she will only be able to sue on the basis of gender or religion – a case the employer can easily defeat by pointing towards other women or Muslims in his employment. 

“In reality, the employer would have discriminated against her because she was wearing a hijab – so she will now be able to claim in court that she was discriminated because she is a Muslim woman.” 

Elsewhere, the law will illegalize political discrimination and forbid insurance agencies from charging higher premiums to gay people because of their presumed higher risk of contracting HIV. 

Agius added that the government is having discussions with the Church on some of the finer details of the Bill – such as whether schools should have the right to request that their teachers be Roman Catholic. 

“Is it legitimate to request that religion teachers must be Roman Catholic? Is it legitimate to request that science teachers at Church schools must be Roman Catholic? These are the sorts of questions that are being raised at the moment…”  

 

‘Warped to believe law the result of an LGBT agenda’ 

An online petition against this Bill has been set up, warning that a clause that would require schools to “promote diversity” is tantamount to the government pushing forward an “LGBT+ agenda”. 

The petition – which had drawn 905 signatures at the time of writing – warns that the agenda is “innocence-destroying and sexualizing”. It has been shared on the Facebook page of Paul Vincenti’s ‘New Conservative Christians’ with the tagline “Christian Voter alert” and on the wall of River of Love pastor Gordon-John Manche. 

“The concept that the Equality Act will indoctrinate children or camouflage an LGBT agenda is so warped,” Agius said. “It just reflects their obsessions, and speaks more about their conservative aspect than their Christian one. 

“Books at Maltese schools are still stereotypical in terms of gender and race – portraying the father fixing the car while the mother washes the dishes, the white person working as a teacher and the black person as a cleaner. 

“Is that the society we want to promote? Is it so wrong if teachers challenge these stereotypes in class?

“There is honestly nothing controversial in the Equality Act – it is simply a response to our changing society and a way to ensure that equality becomes part and parcel of what it means to live in Malta.”