The Malta Independent 20 November 2018, Tuesday

Gay marriage bill passes through committee stage, final vote on Wednesday

Kevin Schembri Orland Tuesday, 11 July 2017, 10:02 Last update: about 2 years ago

The Parliamentary Consideration of Bills Committee yesterday passed the Marriage Equality bill through the clause-by-clause stage, sending it to the final vote in the House which will be taken on Wednesday.

Both parties had promised the introduction of gay marriage, with the Opposition raising objections on the changes regarding the elimination of gender-specific terms. It will still however vote in favour of the law.

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The PN proposed many amendments during the discussion in committee stage, primarily to keep the terms such as father and mother which are currently in the law, while adding on the gender neutral terms.

As an example, one of the amendments proposed in the bill would see the words "the father or the mother" in a particular article substituted by the words "any one of the parents", wherever they occur. PN Whip David Agius proposed keeping the words father and mother but adding on “or anyone of the parents”, however this was shot down by the PL.

Government says that it wants gender neutral terms for equality, arguing that the PN amendments are discriminatory.

During the debate, PN MP Jason Azzopardi asked Justice Minister Owen Bonnici (above) whether they are sure these amendments won’t affect the rent laws, to which the minister said he is sure as the experts went into it.

An argument later broke out over article 92, a clause giving protection to any representative of a religious entity who would not be obliged to implement a particular form of marriage not recognised by their religious entity. “But there are a number of lay persons who also celebrate marriage, such as mayors,” Azzopardi said. He mentioned the right of conscientious objection and wanted the same protection given to them, to be extended to Mayors.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said that if a person wanted, he could start a constitutional case which he would lose, to which Azzopardi said otherwise. Azzopardi said that he is not inventing the wheel and that this protection is given in New York.

"We had this argument during the Divorce law debate, where certain judges might object to implementing it. They then saw it was their duty which comes from the law," Bonnici said.

"It is not similar as a mayor is an elected official," Azzopardi answered.

Azzopardi said that forcing lay persons to do this could potentially breach their human rights, while Bonnici said he does not agree and it could create a situation where there are couples the mayor would marry and others who someone else would, creating a form of discrimination.

"The law already does what one could say is discriminatory as it exempts, and rightly so, religious officials from being forced to marry such couples," Azzopardi said. He said he was not making a fuss but wants this extended to lay persons.

Bonnici said that he cannot force a non-public official, but that a public official has certain duties. "God forbid we go down the road where a public official decides who to marry, as there could be a person who, for example, would not want to marry Muslims to Christians."

Azzopardi brought up an issue last legislature, saying that the PL had argued that the OPM Chief of Staff was not a public official, but that now they are saying Mayors are. Bonnici said that here they are talking about a Mayor’s power to marry and carries out a public function.

A debate also broke out regarding changes being made for searches, and the terms husband and wife in that situation, given that it could create other legal problems. Sylvan Agius, one of the government experts, said that the change would affect situations from now on, but would leave the old version alone.

This evening, Valletta will see a silent protest against the bill. On Wednesday, Valletta is likely to see celebrations as government is urging people to turn up at Castille Square to celebrate the passing of the bill. 

 

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