The Malta Independent 27 July 2017, Thursday

Coming out time

Noel Grima Sunday, 16 July 2017, 10:00 Last update: about 10 days ago

I do not know about you, but personally, I have been experiencing a sort of creeping revelation over the past months as Malta debated gays and lesbians in a sort of lopsided way.

On the one hand, we have been having debates about laws and amendments to laws. Or rather, debates about the internal sort of debates (or non-debates) inside the Nationalist Party. They did not seem to have any debates on the Labour side.

Whatever, the debates were important but there was much more than that involved. I am not proposing to review the debates, even though we all have our own opinions on that and on the tactics that were used.

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Now civil unions have come in and have been integrated in the laws of the country. And have started to be used. Last Wednesday the House of Representatives approved the Bill that will allow the marriage of gays and lesbians. And that marriage will have the full force of the law when it becomes effective.

That, anyhow, was that and brought to an end the heated discussions on whether Edwin Vassallo should vote against or not, and what the consequences would be.

But beyond all this, there has been a slow, slithering, process in our society. We may have noticed it but I have yet to see any public comment in this regard.

You may have noticed an acquaintance, for instance, who did not seem to be in any sort of relationship, who maybe never expressed political opinions and who suddenly came to life and started defending the rights of gays and lesbians to have their unions.

It may not have been anything other than a person expressing an opinion, but in the experience of many, that was that person's first step in coming out, in revealing an LGBT personality hitherto hidden from all, often including his/her family itself.

Suddenly you opened your eyes and started to see many people in a different light. Suddenly people started coming out from the shadows and they included friends, relatives, and acquaintances. They were far more than the people we previously categorized as LGBTs.

In time, in a matter of months, some of these people started to be open about their same-sex relationships. Some started living together; others went the whole hog and entered into civil unions. Others remained living with their families, although the families were now far more permissive and equally fierce in their defence of them.

Overall, I find such people have been accepted with love. Not just tolerance. It is only in people, such as those who took part in the protest in front of Parliament on Tuesday, that one senses a deeply rooted opposition to LGBTs - and I am sure that not all of them shared this feeling.

This, I believe, is only the beginning of a long process which will take years to play itself out in our society. This will be similar to what happened with divorce. Today, it seems incredible that just a few, a very few, years ago, we were involved in a bitter campaign about divorce and today, after so few years, divorce has become accepted as normal in our society.

As unfortunately the news bulletins often tell us, there are still pockets of our society where men (generally) use violence against women, but otherwise there is wide acceptance that some marriages do not work out and that there is no point in keeping the couple chained together for life.

Of course, what was legislated last Wednesday is far more advanced than divorce, because divorce is only granted to a man and a woman who want to end their marriage.

We all, and our society in general, have more distance to cover until we truly become a tolerant society that accepts one and all as human beings first. These people, who used to live in the shadows, have every right to come out and equally every right to live their lives as they see fit, even if our minds still cannot accept that. Just as divorce has made us a more tolerant people, so too, I believe, Wednesday's vote will make us an even more tolerant people.

Maybe that was the nicest and the more comfortable step so far. There are far more steps that must be taken. Racial toleration is still a rather long way ahead but that is a step our people must somehow take in the future. If it is OK for people to separate and divorce and LGBT people enter into loving and enduring relationships, what is stopping people of a darker colour who live and work among us from having the same rights and privileges we enjoy?

And if we have become a people where persons with no religion live peaceably with people who practise religion, what is to stop people of one specific religion from being people of the same nation with all the rights and privileges that we have?

ngrima@independent.com.mt


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