(Adds Curia's clarification)
Nationalist backbencher Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando yesterday would not rule out tabling a Private Member’s Bill on gay marriages, saying that he intends to “take things as they come”. In an opinion piece that appeared in The Times yesterday, Dr Pullicino Orlando called for gay couples to be given the right to marry.
He argued that “the only reason many are averse to the idea of gay marriage is simply a misguided one based on religious beliefs”.
Elaborating yesterday, Dr Pullicino Orlando said that legally recognising homosexual couples’ partnerships was “simply the responsible and logical thing to do”.
Reacting to those who claimed that the time was not right for gay couples to be afforded equal partnership rights he said: “When would it be the right time? Why should gay couples today be denied rights that gay couples in 10 years’ time are likely to enjoy?”
A cohabitation Bill, which was meant to be published by the end of 2011, would “hopefully be a step in the right direction”, Dr Pullicino Orlando said. But he pointed out that the Bill had been on the cards since the Nationalist Party’s 1998 electoral programme.
The government has not yet announced whether the cohabitation law would make specific provisions for homosexual couples or whether they would be grouped together with other cohabiting individuals such as siblings living under the same roof.
Opposition civil rights spokesman Evarist Bartolo agreed with his political counterpart.
“This is not a political or ideological issue, it is a matter of people’s civil rights. Gay couples’ rights must be ensured. They must be treated as human beings.”
Mr Bartolo and Dr Pullicino Orlando had co-presented the Private Members’ Bill calling for divorce that eventually led to last year’s referendum and the eventual introduction of divorce in Malta.
Asked whether he would consider joining forces with the government MP on a Bill calling for gay marriage, Mr Bartolo was coy, limiting himself to saying that “we still haven’t discussed it”.
Human rights lawyer and Aditus director Neil Falzon argued that, while a cohabitation law was important, it was likely to fall short of granting gay couples equality.
“We would like to see marriage equality, with legislation concerning civil marriages making no distinction between the sex or gender of those getting married.”
Dr Falzon had presented such a proposal for gender-neutral civil unions in a position paper launched by the Malta Gay Rights Movement last January. Marriage equality was important for two reasons, Dr Falzon said.
“First, marriage opens up access to a host of other rights, from inheritance to property rights. But, secondly, marriage is an end unto itself. It is a civil right itself.”
The Church is unlikely to look kindly on proposals to enshrine gay marriage in civil law, although questions sent to the Curia yesterday remained unanswered.
Mr Bartolo noted that even within the Church’s ranks there were those who were in favour of marriage equality. “The Bishop of Ragusa – mere miles away from us – came out in favour of gay civil unions a couple of months ago,” he noted.
But while Ragusa’s top cleric may be in favour, others aren’t so sure. Former anti-divorce campaign leader Joyce Cassar was sanguine about the matter. “Society reaps what it sows, good and bad. People laughed when I said divorce would be the first of many things. But I’m being proved right.”
Malta’s only openly gay MP, Karl Gouder, said: “I am sure you appreciate that such issues are being discussed within the Nationalist Party and I will keep on voicing my opinion within the party structures.”
Reference is made to the article “MP does not rule out gay marriages Bill”. Throughout the article, at times reference is made to “gay marriage” and at other times reference is made to “gay civil unions”, in such a way that it is not clear to which the article is referring. A case in point is the comment attributed to Hon. Evarist Bartolo where he says that “within the Church’s ranks, there were those who were in favour of marriage equality”. Immediately afterwards, he quotes the Bishop of Ragusa as coming out in favour of gay civil unions.
Bishop Paola Urso, the Bishop of Ragusa, in an interview to Quotidiano.net explicitly said that he is not in favour of gay marriage. He said: “Che va chiamato con un nome diverso dal matrimonio, altrimenti non ci intendiamo”. (http://qn.quotidiano.net/cronaca/2012/01/11/651009-vescovo_urso_stato_riconosca_unione.shtml).
Only recently, on January 9 2012, in his address to the Diplomatic Corps, Pope Benedict XVI has clearly expressed the Church’s teaching on this matter: “In addition to a clear goal, that of leading young people to a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth, education needs settings. Among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue. It is in the family that we become open to the world and to life”. (www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2012/january/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20120109_diplomatic-corps_en.html).
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