evarist_bartolo
Evarist Bartolo

It all started 53 years ago

Progress has sometimes been slow, and sometimes non-existent but ultimately you cannot have second-class citizens

evarist_bartolo
Evarist Bartolo
5 July 2017, 7:30am
If we are truly created equal, then the love we commit to each other must be equal as well
If we are truly created equal, then the love we commit to each other must be equal as well
Just 53 years ago our country was not an independent country. Decisions were made from the other side of the continent. London was more important than Valletta. Our nation was built from scratch in a short span of time. Many countries began from the same spot as we, but have not yet achieved half of what we have. There we were, a small country in the middle of the Mediterranean, on our own for the first time in history. Always conquered and never independent, our fate had been decided by places far away from the rural lands of our forefathers.

In our short period we have made great achievements. We have a country which treats its children equally. That was an important bedrock principle that has allowed us to grow and prosper, unlike other nations born at the same time as we. We are far from perfect, but let’s not sell ourselves short. We have no oil and no gold mines, only our persistent effort and determination to provide for our families.

Progress on this journey has not been easy. We have had dark chapters but we moved on from them. Two steps forward and the occasional step backward. Over the past few years it’s been a constant drive forward in terms of civil liberties. We had been held back for ages, a country whose aspirations were held in check by elite legislators. It all started with the divorce referendum, the first big crack in this conservative foundation.

As someone who was at the forefront of that fight, believe me, they threw everything at us. They knew how important it was, and it turned out to be so. From then on we were able to break down walls which had long needed to be torn down. The LGBT community, today, is no longer side-lined but cherished. Over the past four years, we have proudly introduced laws that safeguard and bring an equal legal framework for each one of us.

If we are truly created equal, then the love we commit to each other must be equal as well. Progress has sometimes been slow, and sometimes non-existent but ultimately you cannot have second-class citizens. The civil marriage legislation to be introduced in the coming week is a further step on that road. It’s a victory for those couples who have long suffered in the shadows. It’s a victory for those families who will now be fully recognised in law as equals. It’s a victory for friends and families of many LGBT people, who are seeing their loved ones being treated with the same dignity as everyone else.

When we are treated equally, we are more free. We must never forget the crucial principles which allowed a small nation to beat long odds half a century ago. When we celebrate independence and republic we don’t just mark historic achievements, we also celebrate the ability to decide our future.

There are some in our country who may not agree with these equality steps. They are individuals outside the circle of establishment, with a range of well-meaning views. Some may even be down to deeply-held beliefs. This law is not a disdain to these viewpoints, but an occasion to open a conversation with them. In spite of our diverging opinions, the success of this country is also based on mutual respect for the differences between one another. Ultimately, the pursuit of happiness and liberty for each individual to live a life of their own making should overcome our personal beliefs on how we think others should live.

Anonymous heroes through the years have worked tirelessly for this day. They are mothers and fathers who have seen their sons and daughters discarded by society. They are people who have seen injustices happen, in life and work, because of who they are. They are countless pressure groups and civil society members who, quietly, have worked to move things forward throughout the decades. And we should not forget those who may not see this day, and who in the past had to face a harsh and judgemental society where they couldn’t be who they truly were. Equal marriage is not just a piece of legislation, but a sign of respect from a changing society. For this, Malta should be very proud.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment