The Malta Independent 27 July 2017, Thursday

Second reading of gay marriage law approved by Parliament, final vote on Wednesday

Wednesday, 5 July 2017, 19:14 Last update: about 21 days ago

Parliament this evening approved the second reading of the bill introducing gay marriage, with one Nationalist MP, Edwin Vassallo, voting against.

The committee stage, as announced this evening by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, will take place on Thursday and Friday with a final vote on the third reading to be taken on Wednesday 12 July.

The Bill, as proposed by government seeks to replace gender specific terminology with gender neutral terms such as ‘spouse’, ‘partner’ and ‘person who gave birth’ instead of ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. 

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Concluding the debate, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the discussion in hand was not about marriage, but one about humanity so that everyone is treated equally. “This fundamental right transcends every discussion in Parliament, it is a fundamental point that every woman, every man in existence are treated the same way. We are talking about people who till today do not have the same rights as other people. We have one duty; that all people in this country have the same rights. This is not a vote about law in my opinion, it is one about principles.

“Many people say electoral pledges are poetry which becomes prose,” said Muscat, “in the draft of this law, we will continue with poetry even in this room.”

“When we started this debate, we said that we will change the Civil Unions Law but when speaking to people who are living in this situation, we realised we need to move away from this concept of social apartheid,” Muscat continued.                       

 “I am proud that the movement that I lead today, we are on the right side of history. Every time we went a step forward for equality, we kept a number of ideas clear in our head,” he said. 

Responding to some previous interventions within the House, specifically addressing the issue of not removing gender specific words but adding to them gender-neutral terms, Muscat said, “I think this ends up in inequality again, where you classify between families which are ‘normal’ and other families, when for us it has to be all families which are the same. It is fundamental, not us and them, it is equality, it is all of us.”

Saying that people should not follow a certain party if they do not agree with the party's ideals - a direct reference to PN MP Edwin Vassallo, who said he will vote against the law - Muscat said that former Labour MP Adrian Vassallo left the party because he told Muscat that he cannot campaign in favour of civil unions. “People cannot be part of something, a cause, which they do not believe in,” Muscat said. “We are not ready to accept amendments which categorise people.” 

The Prime Minister then announced that during this legislature, the government plans to modernise the IVF law, which in itself discriminates against the LGBTIQ community.

He said that today is about principles. “We will vote with our heart, mind and conscience for equal marriage for everyone,” he concluded.

Speaking before the Prime Minister, Nationalist Party Leader Simon Busuttil said that this discussion deserves to be made away from partisan politics.

He went on to say that the PN is voting in favour of the law for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it gives gay couples the right to enter into a marriage like other couples, and secondly, as it was one of the PN’s electoral pledges. “There cannot be a free vote when you are linked with an electoral promise,” he said.

“Most importantly I think we should vote in favour, because it is common good to be in favour of this law, because if we really believe in equality, then equality needs to apply to everyone,” he stated.

Busuttil went on to explain his personal journey and the journey of the party, saying that voting in favour is another step milestone in this political journey. The rights of civilians should increase not decrease. He said that throughout his career he has spoken to many people from the LGBTIQ community and “realised that their fight for equal rights is one that is justified.”

He went on to explain the “journey” of the Nationalist Party, and “milestones” including implementing divorce, being in favour of the Civil Union bill however feeling it was too early to decide on adoption. “I am proud that in 2015, the Nationalist Party voted in favour of gender identity, and that was the first milestone for the Nationalist Party,” he said.

He said that the party went through a process to arrive at this point, where it will vote in favour of this law.

He said the PN will vote in favour of the law even if amendments it wanted to propose, such as the non-removal of gender specific terms, are refused.

“The Nationalist Party was always in favour of civil rights, so it makes sense that it is in favour of this too.”

Busuttil said that the Nationalist Party is not the spokesperson of the Church, and does not need to agree word for word with what the Church is saying. “In many instances the PN have had a different view such as with contraception, IVF and divorce,” he said.

When it comes to gender neutral terms, Busuttil said “the draft law, although we understand the idea behind it, should be more sensitive.

“We are asking to add gender-neutral words, rather than remove the gender-specific ones. I do not think this is an amendment which should create controversy. Even if our amendments are not implemented, we are still voting in favour, but we should take everyone’s sensitivity into consideration.”

Minister for Equality and European Affairs Helena Dalli slammed the debate for debasing the issue through the use of false statements and scare mongering.

“This is what the Opposition did when it came to divorce and civil unions,” she said.

Dalli was making reference to the PN’s caution that children will not be able to call their parents ‘mother’ or ‘father’, or that mother’s day is in jeopardy through the introduction of gender neutral terminology in this Bill.

“Let us not be ridiculous”, she said.

She made reference to an anonymous letter sent to her from a florist which read:

“Thanks for removing mother and father’s day, now people will not be buying flowers anymore. Even restaurants who would turn a profit through the occasion will suffer. Stop disrupting our business.”

This person actually believes the PN’s lies, Dalli exclaimed.

“You [the PN] should be ashamed of yourselves for scaremongering once again. People actually believe that mother’s day and father’s day will be removed. I understand people’s concerns if they turn a profit through the occasion of mother’s day, the shame is on the politicians who spread such lies,” she said.

She singled out PN Whip David Agius who first sounded the caution, as well as MP Edwin Vassallo who also repeated that mother’s day will be vulnerable.

“You [the PN] either believe in equality or you do not, you cannot hang in the middle and try and please everybody.”

Dalli said that in order for legally, and in day-to-day life there is to be true equality for all couples, this law is completely necessary.

“It will be acknowledging the fundamental right to marriage for all,” she said.

The PN had a liberal electoral manifesto but in reality the party is 50 years old, Dalli added, questioning whether equal marriage would have been a priority for the Opposition had it been elected into power.

Nationalist MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici declared that he is not a liberal or a conservative, but is a Christian Democrat who seeks to safeguard society. He appealed for mother and father to be kept in the wording of the text.

“What is best for the community that we are obliged to protect? I feel that from this aspect the law does not do anything for this, it is a cosmetic law that does not go into reality.

“For heterosexual marriage, the community has an interest in stability and peace. Procreation maintains the balance of life. Heterosexual marriage is vital for procreation. This is the point I am trying to get across. I hope that the government does not continue to be stubborn.

This law was rushed, he said.

Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar said that with these more neutral terms we are “not inventing something new”, saying that in other Maltese law terms such as ‘prospective parents’ is the term used rather than ‘mother and father’.

She said that she will be voting in favour, saying “love is love, if marriage is a celebration of love there should not be a distinction between the two”.

Nationalist MP Hermann Schiavone said that marriage between people of the same sex already exists in the form of civil union, as “the rights are the same.”

He spoke against removing references such as ‘mother’ and ‘father’, saying that such removals are “not needed to create equality.” Reading Article 83 of the proposal, he slammed swapping the word ‘maternity’ for the word ‘this’. “Who can give birth to a child if not a mother?” he said.   He appealed to the government that if they want equal marriage, not to remove concepts of mother and father.

Schiavone appealed to the Government to agree to these amendments, saying that this should not be something implemented “to score political points.”

Labour MP Robert Abela, refering to the speech earlier by Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo, asked how it wasnt against Vassallo's conscience to be a candidate with the Nationalist Party when this new law was on their electoral manifesto. 

“My daughter doesnt call me ‘Pa’ because it is written in some legislation,” he said.

Abela said that it is an ugly thing to need division in terminology, adding that he cannot understand the obsession on using divisive terminology on prejudice based on gender. 

Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami also declared that the marriage equality bill is merely confirming something which already exists, in that of the Civil Union law. "All the rights are the same," he said. 

Addressing the Christians within the House, he said "we need to vote in favour of public good," saying that in the position as Members of Parliament they need to "understand the signs of the changing society and address those changes, rather than ignoring the changes."

He said that reality remains that "many people are in relationships with people of the same sex and the law needs to protect those people." 

Fench Adami went on to say that approving this law will be a victory in tolerance, diversty and love. "With this law there should be no loss," he said. "It is a victory of recognising people who love, and who does not believe in love?" he asked. He said that tolerance is one of the qualities of Christianity and quoted Pope Francis with the need to fight injustices and corruption, and work to better the lives of those in society who are suffering the most. 

He concluded by appealing to the government to know that "the Opposition only wants to better the laws, and wants laws which unite not divide." 


 

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