Opposition leader Simon Busuttil is insisting that the decision to abstain on the Civil Unions Bill was the only available option in the circumstances and refutes the charge that the PN was not bold enough to take a stand.

In an interview with Times of Malta in the wake of last Monday’s historic vote, Dr Busuttil argued that the Opposition did take a position, contrary to what has been claimed by many, as it gave a detailed explanation prior to the vote.

The party has been arguing all along that the issue of civil unions and gay adoptions should have been tackled in separate bills. Dr Busuttil said that on a personal level he was all out in favour of civil unions but had reservations on gay adoptions.

“Had this been the case and both bills were put to vote last Monday, the Opposition would have backed civil unions but voted against gay adoptions,” said Dr Busuttil.

Asked about his reservations on gay adoptions, he said that before introducing the possibility of allowing same-sex couples to apply for adoption, the country had to make an informed decision. He said that society needed to be geared for such a radical change.

“For the last six months the government has repeatedly ignored our calls to detach gay adoptions from the Civil Unions Bill and to carry out further studies.”

He argued that in such a scenario the Opposition was asked to express two different positions in a single vote.

“The only option left for us was to abstain and back our position with an explanation.”

Nevertheless, the party still faced a barrage of criticism that it had opted to take a position of convenience which ultimately pleased nobody.

A number of Opposition MPs privately expressed their view with this newspaper that the best option would have been to give a free vote. They argued that this would have also conveyed the message of an inclusive and open party, and so move a step ahead of the government.

Even though there could have been diverging views, as in any party, everybody agreed that the best solution in these circumstances was to abstain

Probed about his personal position had the party given this option, the PN leader was rather evasive saying at that stage it was “irrelevant” and the important thing was for the parliamentary group to remain united.

“Even though there could have been diverging views, as in any party, everybody agreed that the best solution in these circumstances was to abstain.”

He also argued that whatever position the Opposition would have taken in Parliament, the Bill would have still been approved, so it was not worth opting for a free vote and splitting the party.

“[Prime Minister] Joseph Muscat on Monday failed in his objective to split the party,” he said, pointing a finger at the government for “orchestrating” the hostile reception reserved for members of the Opposition outside Parliament.

He said the government was more intent on seeking ways to be divisive rather than reaching a consensus.

Dr Busuttil also hit out at the Prime Minister, accusing him of unfairly portraying all those who expressed reservations about gay adoptions as fundamentalists or extremists.

Joseph Muscat on Monday failed in his objective to split the party

Though Dr Busuttil was keen to stress that the PN had not voted against civil unions but abstained, parallels are being drawn with 2011 when the party had campaigned against the introduction of divorce.

Back then, Prof. Joe Friggieri had warned PN councillors that the party had to brace itself for more societal changes once it had opened the door for EU membership in 2004. However, Prof. Friggieri’s advice seems to have gone unheeded as he told this newspaper this week that three years later, the party was still facing the same conundrum.

Dr Busuttil fended off this criticism, saying that since he was elected the party had made important steps forward.

He added that from an “ambiguous position” on gay rights, the party was now fully backing civil unions and had even tabled constitutional amendments to safeguard against any form of sexual discrimination.

“Prof. Friggieri should also take into account the divisive approach taken by the Prime Minister, as well as the fact that the Opposition did its part and didn’t vote against the Bill but abstained,” Dr Busuttil said.

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