Same-sex couples are set to gain the right to obtain legal recognition for their relationship this evening, as Maltese MPs vote on the Civil Unions Bill - or gay marriage - in its third and final reading.
Whether the bill will receive unanimous backing remains to be seen, as the position of the Nationalist Party in opposition remains unclear. The party agrees with civil unions in principle, but has expressed reservations about the fact that the bill makes it possible for same-sex couples to adopt children jointly.
In any case, however, the final outcome – the approval of the bill – is a foregone conclusion, so much so that organisations representing Malta’s LGBT communities have joined forces to organise street celebrations in St George’s Square. The event, which will see the participation of various local musicians, will kick off as soon as the parliamentary sitting is over.
The bill will officially become law once it is signed by President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, who has repeatedly confirmed that she had no problem with doing so. Her predecessor George Abela was reported as having refused to sign such a bill, a claim that is yet to be denied.
Contacted by The Malta Independent, Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja – who forms part of the LGBT consultative council which helped draft the bill – described the approval as “a huge step forward towards the equal treatment of same-sex couples and their children.”
“It is not so much the introduction of some radical principle or the imposition of new values, but the affirmation of the basic principle that all persons should be treated equally simply by virtue of their humanity,” she maintained.
Not everyone will be celebrating the event, however. Arguably the most strident opponent to the proposed bill – the River of Love Christian Fellowship headed by pastor Gordon Manché – had presented parliament with a 10,000-signature petition opposing adoption by same-sex couples earlier this month, and the pastor said the group was ready to organise another signature – calling for an abrogative referendum – if this was necessary.
Asked to comment, Ms Calleja recognised the possibility of a backlash, stating that “legislation is important, but only the beginning in changing the hearts and minds of people.”
“I am however convinced that in the end, homophobia and prejudice will not prevail.”
Obtaining legal recognition for same-sex couples – if not full marriage equality – has inevitably been a primary issue for LGBT rights campaigners, but Ms Calleja noted that there was still much to be done in the field.
The consultative council itself is presently working on a new Gender Identity Bill to strengthen the rights and legal protections of transgender persons.
Other issues highlighted by Ms Calleja include lack of anti-discrimination legislation in the provision of goods and services, working with the police to improve responses to hate crimes and encourage victims to come forward and report them, improving access to healthcare for trans persons, addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, developing a better understanding of the needs of elderly LGBT people and building capacity to deal with intersex issue.
This evening, however, is being devoted to celebration.