Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo will vote against gay marriage

Malta debates gay marriage: ‘Abstaining on civil unions in 2014 was mistake’ – Claudette Buttigieg

Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo
Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo

Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo has declared he will vote against the marriage amendment bill, saying the rules that will legislate for gay marriage were intended at changing the nature of marriage.

“The law that gives same-sex couples the same rights as married people already exist in the Civil Unions Act,” Vassallo, a former minister, told the Maltese parliament.

“The Muscat administration is violating the vocabulary of marriage… there is no mandate for this law, and has not been promised in any law.

“Had I to vote in favour I would be dishonest towards what I believe, a liar to my constituents and to myself. I do what I do with conviction, and not out of convenience.”

READ MORE Former MP wants free vote for Nationalist group

Vassallo echoed the gripes of various Nationalist MPs with the introduction of gender-neutral terms in the law that regulates marriage. “This bill is a prelude to the culture of death... I want to say no to this law because I have no faith that this administration will not start dictating to us on the rules of life.”

Claudette Buttigieg
Claudette Buttigieg

Yet, when contacted by MaltaToday regarding the issue, a PN spokesperson insisted that all Nationalist MPs would be voting in favour of the Bill.

"As explained previously, the Opposition will vote in favour of the law, and therefore there is no free vote," the spokesperson said.

On her part, the Nationalist MP Claudette Buttigieg admitted that the PN’s abstention in the 2014 parliamentary vote to introduce civil unions to Maltese law, was a mistake.

She said the PN had abstained over reservations on gay adoption, and that PN leader Simon Busuttil wanted consensus rather than division on the matter.

Addressing parliament this morning for the second reading of the Marriage Equality Bill, however, Buttigieg recounted how she was “touched” to have received invitations to civil union ceremonies, saying this was an indication that people had forgiven her for her “mistake”.

“I know I hurt people with the decision I took. It was a collective decision, but I know that people were expecting something different from me,” she said.

Buttigieg went on to say that the abstention reflected the feelings of the parliamentary group at the time, but that the group had evolved, reflecting the changes in society. “Who am I to judge who anyone else can love?” she asked. “I am no one. However we have to respect those who disagree with this statement. This change is a process,” she added.

The Opposition’s main objection to the Bill revolves around terminology used to reflect parental and spousal relations.

“We feel that the use of terminology can be done in a better way. If we look at the most fundamental issues of this law, we ask why remove the words mother, father, husband and wife only to replace them with parent and spouse,” Buttigieg said, pointing to a similar law passed in the US state of New York, where lawmakers merely added the words ‘spouse’ and ‘parent' where applicable to the existing law.

“Leave the choice there. The diversity will be maintained, but the terms will still be added,” she reiterated.

Labour MP Aaron Farrugia. Photo: Ray Attard
Labour MP Aaron Farrugia. Photo: Ray Attard

Turning to comments made earlier by parliamentary secretary for social dialogue Aaron Farrugia, Buttigieg said that by calling the PN “medieval”, would not hurt the party but would hurt the parents offended by the proposed change in terminology.

“There are people who are really hurt by this decision. Calling us medieval will not hurt the party. All you are doing is hurting all the mothers and fathers who are irked by the terminology.”

Earlier, Labour MP Aarron Farrugia opened the floor describing Malta as a country “stuck in medieval times” prior to 2011.

He said that through the Marriage Equality Bill, 2017 will be marked in history as the year Malta accepted all of its citizens. “I want to hear less arguments from the medieval left. For us it is unacceptable for someone to think that the law can discriminate against their children as if it was a natural order,” he said.

He added that the law will not present cosmetic changes, but will reflect changes in the foundation of Maltese society.

“The Opposition presented itself to be liberal during the electoral campaign,” Farrugia added. “I am positive that the PN has learnt from its experiences and hope that they believe in tangible change.”

Farrugia called on the parliament to prove that Malta accepts all of its citizens, not just those who form part of the majority. “The rights of the minority are just as important as those of the majority.”

MP Claudio Grech called on the parliament to be more representative of the diversity present in society and within the chamber, arguing that the government was not providing the appropriate platform for meetings of minds.

“This law represents the first opportunity to put this diversity into practice. We are talking about moving forward, about diversity, but this is not respected in this chamber,” he said.

Opposition MP Claudio Grech
Opposition MP Claudio Grech

Grech claimed that the changes in terminology is not representative diversity but is in fact language of division.

“My main point is that in these matters, we should look at how the diversity among us can be represented in the legislation process. By forcing uniformity, we would be reducing the parliamentary process to nil,” he said.

Grech insisted that the law should be allowed to go through, but that he believed there should be more representation during discussion, as well as a better platform for everyone to express their opinion.

Godfrey Farrugia, representing Partit Demokratiku in parliament, outlined that the discussion on the Bill often reflected three areas: the legislative component, where the appropriate wording needs to be put into law to safeguard equal rights; the political component and the surrounding circumstances; and the social component, meaning the attitudes and lifestyles taken up by Maltese citizens.

MP Godfrey Farrugia
MP Godfrey Farrugia

“It is important to recognize the fact that society today has changed, and therefore family structure and the role of each individual within a family has also changed,” Farrugia said.

He added that people were at the centre of politics and so lawmakers should form policy frameworks that protect human dignity and respect for all members of society.

“The law in itself will not change people’s mindsets and it will not bring about social reengineering,” Farrugia said, adding that he cannot legally impose a lifestyle onto people who are not the same as him.

“While working toward equality, we need to embrace diversity.”

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