The Civil Unions Bill will recognise same-sex partnerships and give them the same rights and duties as married couples, it was revealed this morning.

The Bill is due to be published in the Government Gazette later today.

Public Dialogue and Civil Rights Minister Helena Dalli said the debate about the Bill will start in Parliament tomorrow.

Dr Dalli said that what was important was not just the legislation but the social and cultural aspect linked to gay rights and how the rest of society looked at this community.

"We are people before we are straight, gay, black, white or red," she told reporters.

"We have to move towards a society that shuns discrimination and everyone enjoys rights to live a happy life."

She said the Bill taken on board by the Government was exactly as it had been put forward by the consultative council on gay rights.

Cyrus Engerer, who leads the consultative council said the proposed law is based on Danish law enacted in the 1980s.

"It is a very short, succinct law that says all rights pertaining to a married heterosexual couple apply to gay partners who join in a civil union," he said.

The Bill also makes provisions for the recognition of gay marriages contracted abroad.

Neil Falzon, a human rights lawyer, involved in the drafting of the Bill said the law was very simple.

Every right and obligation pertaining to marriage applies to civil unions as well.

"This is a very important step for the LGBTI community and a first step towards total equality in marriage."

Gabi Calleja, head of the Malta Gay Rights Movement, welcomed the Bill.

"Our aim remains equality in marriage and this law is closest we can get to marriage without calling it marriage.

"A lot of couples will benefit from this law and solve practical problems they face."

She thanked the Prime Minister for his support to push for this law, as well as LGBT Labour and all those who have for the past decade campaigned for equality.

Asked about the anomaly that may be created by the recognition of gay marriages contracted abroad, Dr Dalli said this was "a positive anomaly to have" because it could push society towards more change in the future.

"We are bound by our electoral programme but this is not a law cast in stone it will evolve along with society," she said.

Dr Dalli said a private members' bill proposed by Opposition MP Claudette Buttigieg to include provisions against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Constitution, will start to be discussed in Parliament on Wednesday.

The bill gives same sex couples the same rights as married couples in issues such as taxation, inheritance, child adoption and social benefits.

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