An option being given to parents not to indicate the gender of their newborn on the birth certificate should be restricted only to rare cases where the gender could not be medically identified, the Opposition argued in Parliament on Monday.

Shadow Minister Karol Aquilina said that while the PN MPs would vote in favour of amendments to the Civil Code, centred mostly on the choice of surnames for couples, he hoped an agreement could be reached on the clause related to the option not to indicate gender on the birth certificate.

Independent MP Godfrey Farrugia was stronger in his criticism and said he would be voting against this bill. In his decades of experience as a doctor he had only had one case where the gender was unclear, he said. But a simple mouth swab test established whether a baby was XX or XY, a boy or a girl.

This clause was creating hullabaloo for nothing, giving a right which did not exist. This was not a matter of a right, but a shameful act which could not recognise matters as they were, nature as it was, he said. 

The Bill was introduced by parliamentary secretaries Alex Muscat and Rosianne Cutajar. Muscat in his introduction explained the amendments, announced last week, that give unmarried couples the right to choose a surname that applies to themselves and their children.

Cutajar said the government's decision to give parents the option not to indicate the gender of their child in their birth certificate was taken out of respect for the particular situation which intersex people experienced. She explained that this right was actually introduced five years ago in the Gender Identity Law and was now also being included in the civil code.

The Gender Identity Act gave all the right to identify themselves with the gender they felt most comfortable in.

It was unfortunate that some still viewed intersex people as different, defective, even sick, she said.  

Such an attitude was unacceptable for the government. Equality had to trump discrimination, love had to trump hate and society had to be built on equality.

It was the 2015 law which originally gave parents the option not to declare their baby's gender on the birth certificate.

This, Cutajar said, remained an option and no one was being obliged to do anything.

But some babies - about one every year in Malta - were intersex, whose gender could not be identified according to medical norms. Parents opted not to declare the gender of their child for particular medical reasons which did not permit them to do so. 

In society, intersex persons were still invisible but that did not mean they did not exist.  

The option not to declare gender was crucial for intersex children who, on reaching puberty could suffer a trauma when they realised that the gender they had been assigned in their birth certificate had nothing to do with the gender they identified themselves with.  

Cutajar said the extreme right was unduly scaring people and her appeal was for members of parliament to be humane and sensitive to a reality which existed but was hidden.  

'Option should be limited to particular circumstances'

Shadow minister Karol Aquilina in his reply said sex and gender were confused in many people's mind. Indeed, the birth certificate spoke of 'sex' not 'gender'.

Cutajar was correct that there were rare situations where it was medically difficult to establish if a newborn was male or female. It was good to address this situation.

But the government in this bill was giving 'all' parents the option of not indicating the gender of their newborn. Did this mean that even when it was clear that a baby was a boy or girl, parents could still opt not to indicate the gender, leaving it up the child once it grew up? 

He felt a line should not be crossed. Where there were medical issues, it was right that the gender should not be indicated. But he felt that the Bill, as written, could create difficulties and abuse. 

He hoped this issue could be debated in committee to introduce safeguards. Parents should not be able not to declare gender capriciously, without valid reason.

The opposition would vote in favour of this bill but hoped agreement on this clause would be reached

Independent MP Godfrey Farrugia said he would be voting against this bill. In his decades of experience as a doctor, he had only had one case where the gender was unclear. But a simple mouth swab test established whether a baby was XX or XY, a boy or a girl.

This clause was creating hullabaloo for nothing, giving a right which did not exist. This was not a matter of a right, but a shameful act which could not recognise matters as they were, nature as it was.  

Parliamentary secretary Alex Muscat in winding up the debate reiterated that nothing new was being introduced. What was happening was that what was enacted five years ago in the Gender Identity Law was now also being reflected in the Civil Code. He insisted that this option was needed, even if only one intersex baby was born every year.

 

 

 

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