The first Civil Unions in Malta could come as early as mid-June after President Marie Louse Coleiro Preca signed the Bill on Wednesday.
Now that the controversial Bill has been signed, it will come into effect by means of Legal Notices that are expected to be published within the next couple of days.
When contacted earlier this week, a spokesman for the Social Dialogue and Civil Rights Ministry said that, once the Bill becomes law, couples can immediately apply for a Civil Union.
The spokesman explained that applicants would then have to apply for their Civil Union at the Public Registry and banns would be published, just like as in a normal marriage. Banns have to be published at least six weeks prior to the official ceremony.
This paper is informed that a number of gay and straight couples, mostly gay, will apply for a Civil Union on the earliest date possible. This time frame indicates that the first Civil Unions could become reality by mid-June.
Departments ‘prepared’ for Civil Unions
The ministry spokesman said, “Once the couple formally applies for civil union, a procedure starts with the banns being published. In the case of Maltese citizens, only ID Cards of both partners are required. As regards foreigners, a birth certificate and a free status certificate is required. These both have to be legalized. The couple have to wait for a period of six weeks from the publication of banns.”
Maltese or mixed couples who acquired Civil Marriages or partnerships from abroad will also be able to register for Maltese recognition “immediately after the Bill is signed”.
The Ministry said that both the Public Registry and the government’s information technology agency, MITA, will be involved. “Preparations were well way in hand in the past months as regards forms and all paperwork,” said the spokesman, when asked if the concerned departments are logistically prepared for this new concept.
Another government source noted that, when divorce was introduced into Maltese law, the first few applicants had encountered difficulties because the relevant departments were not prepared. “This time round, things will be different.”
Gay adoptions as soon as Bill becomes law
In the meantime, a spokesman for the Family Ministry confirmed that gay couples can apply to adopt children immediately after the Bill becomes law.
“Gay persons did apply to adopt children before, but only as single persons. With the new law, gay couples whose relationship is formalised through Civil Unions will apply like any other couple and go through the same thorough screening process as other couples. This gives the advantage that the two persons adopting together are assessed, unlike today when only one of them is assessed.”
The spokesperson said that “the same rigorous process as any other person has been through be it single straight, single gay/lesbian or married couples. The difference will now be that gay couples in a formal relationship recognised by law will not be discriminated against. Besides, in line with the approval of amendments to the Constitution, the legislation is in line with the constitution changes. Adoptions, like any other adoption in the past, will have the child’s best interest considered first and foremost by experts who are well qualified to evaluate each and every case.”
On the same subject, the Civil Rights Ministry also insisted that the Civil Unions Bill removes discrimination and paves the way for equal rights. “It will be up to the experts to decide whether the couple qualifies for adoption on a case by case basis.”
Agenzija Appogg told this paper that it is difficult to put a time frame on adoptions because they vary case by case, and adoptions from foreign countries could actually take longer. It is understood, however, that the average case takes around at least two years. This means that a tentative date for the first gay adoptions could be somewhere around 2016.
Only 14 other countries allow gay adoptions
Legalising gay adoptions is one thing, but finding children to adopt is another. Maltese heterosexual families have a wide range of countries from where they can adopt children, including, obviously, Malta.
However, when it comes to gay couples, the choice might be much more limited. Many Maltese families adopt children from African countries and Russia, but the latter does not allow gay adoptions and there is only one African country that does: South Africa.
Apart from Malta, only 14 countries worldwide allow adoption by same-sex couples. These are Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the UK and Uruguay.
A number of sub-jurisdictions also allow gay adoptions. These include Western Australia and New South Wales, the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Mexico City, and a number of US states and territories.