Dalli: Equality in marriage bill goes beyond same-sex relationships

The equality minister said that the proposed law would be modernising marriage laws in addition to giving equal rights to same-sex couples

Equality minister Helena Dalli insisted that the marriage equality bill would modernise existing marriage laws
Equality minister Helena Dalli insisted that the marriage equality bill would modernise existing marriage laws

Equality minister Helena Dalli has said that the proposed equality in marriage bill is not only intended make marriage between same-sex couples equal to that between heterosexual couples, but it would also be modernising laws governing marriage in Malta.

Speaking in Parliament during the second reading of the bill, Dalli said that the law would address issues like those pertaining to whose surname a couple was obliged to keep after marriage.

“Women have no option but to choose their husband’s surname after marriage,” she said. “If we truly want equality between men and women we must also address patriarchy in these names.”

Above all, the minister stressed that government was obliged to amend any law that leads to discrimination, irrespective of whether it did so directly or indirectly. She said that as legislators, MPs could be not act like "robots" and must understand the reality different people lived through.  

“Every couple is equally as valid in our eyes and we will not interfere in what the components of the couple should be,” said Dalli, who added that the law should be “blind” and should apply to everyone equally.

She explained that words like father and mother were being removed from the law, in order to have neutral language that did not discriminate against anyone, and which did not allow for there to be the need for someone to have to interpret the law and to determine whether it applied to same-sex couples.

Dalli also said that the law represented the government’s intention to fight “heterosexism” in the same way it wanted to fight sexism. She said that if marriage were to continue being associated only with the relationship between a man a woman, it would mean that some relationships were “more normal than others”.

She insisted that the introduction of the word spouse would “not be taking anything away from anyone” but would be giving a lot to some in society.

Turning to media reports in which Dalli said some unnamed Opposition MPs had said that government did not have the mandate to amend the Marriage Act of 1975, Dalli said that the Labour Party had promised marriage equality that was in no way inferior to standard marriage, adding that this was “what people voted for”.

“We will not act in the same way as the Nationalist Party did in government, where it would promise a cohabitation bill before each election, only to never introduce one,” she said.

On what the law “would not be doing”, Dalli said that it would in no way impact religious practices, and that amendments would be made to the Marriage Act that would ensure religious protection

“Nothing should be interpreted as trying to oblige religious officials to do anything that they are against,” she said, while pointing out that religious officials who were happy to wed same-sex couples would be able to do so.

Moreover, she said that the law would also not make any changes to the Embryo Protection Act.  

“Those PN MPs who are saying we are deceiving people in order to indirectly amend this law, can rest assured that this is not the case,” she said.

Dalli added that by saying so, Opposition MPs were simply trying to introduce doubt as to what the government’s intentions were.

Opposition to vote in favour of bill

PN whip and Civil Liberties spokesperson David Agius said the Opposition would be voting in favour of the bills, while lambasting the government for only publishing the draft bill the morning that parliament was set to discuss it.

He insisted however that the Opposition would not be derailing the debate and would be putting forward suggestions once the bill reaches the parliamentary committee stage. He pointed to the Forza Nazzjonali manifesto, which he said had made the PN’s position on the matter clear.

Turning to the use of neutral language to replace certain terms, Agius asked why the government wanted to remove the words mother and father from the “country’s culture”.

“Why don’t we leave the possibility for people to choose themselves,” said Agius. “I don’t know whether this was discussed in your parliamentary group and whether your colleagues agree with this.”

Agius questioned why the minister did not want children to call their mother, mother and their father, father.

“Will we be celebrating person who gave birth to day instead of Mothers Day?” he asked.

The remarks were met with disbelief and a degree of ridicule by Government MPs, with justice minister Owen Bonnici explaining that what Agius was implying did not make sense since it was obvious that people could use whatever terms they liked when referring to their parents.

He said that while it was positive that both sides of the House would be voting in favour of the bill, he could not understand how the Opposition, in its reply to the ministers opening statements, insisting on focusing on issues of wording that could be discussed during the committee stage.

He said that in essence, the law meant a strengthening of the principle that all are equal in the eyes of the law.

“We should be proud because our country is acting as a trail blazer in this area,” said Bonnici.

He said the law would also be influencing the lives of European citizens beyond Malta since European courts distinguished between issues that were not accepted in any European state and those that were accepted by some.

“Our country, the smallest one, will be having a large impact on European thinking,” said Bonnici. “After this law, the European courts will start to take note of what has happened in Malta.”

Deputy leader Mario De Marco said that the day the Nationalist Party abstained in the vote on the introduction of civil unions was the one that had hurt him the most during his political career, adding that the Nationalist Party would not be making the same mistake.

Moreover, addressing those who believed the proposed law to go against the Nationalist Party’s principles, De Marco said he did not believe this to be the case.

“The foundation of Christian Democrat politics is the individual,” said De Marco, adding that the individual must be respected in all its diversity.

Meanwhile, PN MP Clyde Puli said that the Opposition was in favour of increased diversity in society however the removal of words like father and mother, went against diversity. He said that this created unwanted uniformity, which he said was reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World – a novel centred around, among other themes, the of a loss of individual identity. 

Another step towards equality in society

Partit Demokratiku leader Marlene Farrugia said that she was pleased to see Parliament opening with a session that seemed to have consensus on both sides of the house. She said that it was imperative that Parliament ensured that everyone in society was respected. 

“This law is another step in the direction of equality. It is a step that allows to create this equality,” said Farrugia.

Addressing those who did not agree with the law on the basis of religious conviction, Farrugia said that she had “never felt more Christian than today” since the law crystallised the principle of love to one’s neighbour.

She said however that it was important for the country to go beyond laws, and to move onto actions that reflected the laws.

“It’s useless talking about equality and then speaking in a disparaging way about different situations, or one sex or the other,” she said.

Farrugia appealed to the Labour Party to "make history" by choosing Helena Dalli for the role of deputy leader, adding that while she had not always seen eye to eye with Dalli, she knew her to be a person one could work with despite not agreeing with