Civil rights for all

I feel privileged to be part of the party re-writing history and ensuring equality for us and for future generations.

My vote, and that of my colleagues, in favour of the Civil Union bill in Parliament last Monday was not just a vote in favour of the gay community; it was a vote for Malta and the Maltese. It was a vote in favour of Civil rights and in favour of a more liberal approach to society today. We have lived up to our tradition of being the party that introduces liberal social reforms in Malta and we have proved that we can easily stand side-by-side with the more progressive countries in the European Union.

Traditionally, the PN has been consistently against opening up our society. 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. In June 2012, then Justice Minister Chris Said tabled the first reading of a cohabitation bill that would recognise new rights for unmarried couples, both straight and gay. Only the bill’s title had been tabled. Once again, the Nationalist Party refused to be part of this process and the simple fact that the opposition abstained was criticized by even some of the most PN-leaning media.

The EU had long been proposing the insertion of a directive against discrimination of minorities, including gay people, a directive the PN government had brushed off as premature. Now we can proudly say that the Labour government has delivered on another of its promises. This legislation was welcomed by one and all. US Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley participated in the celebrations and congratulated Malta on reaching this decision. The British High Commissioner Rob Luke referred to the government’s decision as “a historic day for Malta as Parliament passes the Civil Unions Bill.”

In 2008, the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) had requested all political parties to commit themselves to legalising the rights of same-sex couples, to make violence against homosexuals a criminal offence, to address bullying against gay youth in schools, to prohibit discrimination in the delivery of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation, to extend the remit of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality to cater for the grounds of sexual orientation and to include gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy for transgender persons as part of the public health services.

MGRM put the formal recognition of the rights of same-sex couples at the top of their agenda. MGRM had said “many gay and lesbian people are already in same-sex relationships that are equivalent to heterosexual relationships in essential respects. Marriage has a symbolic meaning and is an important social institution. Also significant are the many concrete legal protections that marriage provides.”  Now, this is all possible.

There was also religious opposition to the redefinition of the traditional understanding of marriage. But this is not about religion. It is about safeguarding the fundamental rights of each and every person, irrespective of their sexual orientation. The Lord Bishop of Exeter, speaking to the House of Lords in 2013, gave a clear understanding that “society gave legal and institutional expression to what many hold to be true - that gay and lesbian people should have the same rights to formalise their commitment to each other and enjoy the social and legal benefits that opposite-sex couples have.”

We have been waiting for this day for far too long.  As the Prime Minister said, through this decision we have separated the past from the future, and words from actions. I feel privileged to be part of the party re-writing history and ensuring equality for us and for future generations.

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