With a rapidity close to that of the speed of light, Malta will soon become one of the very few countries in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. There is just one difference between us and the other countries that legalised same-sex marriage before us: ours will temporarily be called a civil union.

The law that is being proposed by the Government provides for marriage in all but name. If in the near future the Government would feel that, for electoral more than for legallybinding or socially-valid reasons, the law should be changed, it would only need to change the title.

The Objects and Reasons of the Bill that the Labour Government is proposing state it all. “The underlying principle of this Act is to equate civil unions with marriages in terms of procedure and substance in a manner that guarantees equal rights to parties in a civil union as are granted to spouses in a marriage.” A more clear declar-ation that this is a law for same-sex marriage is hard to come by.

Before the election the Labour Party sang a different tune. It said that it favoured civil unions but that it was against the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Once in power, the Labour Government is presenting a Bill which de facto enacts same-sex marriage. No doubt this was done to pander to the gay lobby. At the same time the Government intentionally avoids using the term ‘marriage’ in order not to alienate those who are against same-sex marriage.

This is a strategy based on electoral convenience and deceit. Marriage is too important an institution to be treated in this shoddy way. If the people of Malta want same-sex marriage, so be it. But it should be so by a conscious popular decision and not by stealth.

The argument that basic human rights should not be subject to a majority vote does not apply in this case because same-sex marriage is not a basic human right.

In March 2012 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Europ-ean nations which define marriage as the union of a man and a woman are not guilty of discrimination. “The European Convention on Human Rights does not require member states’ governments to grant same-sex couples access to marriage,” the court said. This decision yanks the carpet from under the feet of those who claim discrimination. Their claim has no legal basis.

Same-sex marriage is not a basic human right. This phrase is a contradiction in terms. The leftist and radical former master general of the Dominican Order, Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, in an opinion piece published in The Tablet of March 10, 2012, wrote that “The Catholic Church does not oppose gay marriage. It considers it to be imposs-ible. But ‘gay marriage’ is imposs-ible because it attempts to cut loose marriage from its grounding in our biological life. If we do that, we deny our humanity. It would be like trying to make a cheese soufflé without the cheese, or wine without grapes.”

This does not in any way imply lack of respect to gay persons, as the draft’s position in favour of monogamy does not imply dis-respect for persons in polygamous relationships. The draft does, however, imply discrimination against the minority who would perhaps want to enter into a polygamous relationship. It seems that the targeting of minority wishes is dictated by voting power and not by rights.

Full respect for persons, their rights and their intimate relationships should be supreme. Minister Helena Dalli was spot-on when she declared that we are human persons before we are homosexual or heterosexual or red or blue. Homosexuals, like heterosexuals, do have humanly enriching and deep relationships.

Sometimes the caring love and dedication shown in their relationships can put to shame that of several heterosexual couples. Many such relationships are both humanly rewarding and can enrich the community to which they belong. Consequently the harbouring of a hostile disposition against people in a same-sex attraction is condemnable.

On more than one occasion I have written in favour of civil partnerships between persons of the same sex as a means of safeguarding these relationships.

Such unions or partnerships are needed as the relationships between homosexual couples initiate rights and duties between the couple and with society as well as vice-versa. (The same can be said for cohabit-ating heterosexual partners and persons living together, for any reason whatsoever which does not include a sexual relationship. The law should protect these persons as well, particularly those who are in a vulnerable position in such relationships.)

A law on civil partnerships would respect the rights of the persons involved without redefining marriage by making these partnerships equal to marriage.

The law that is being proposed by the Government provides for marriage in all but name

One distinction between the two institutions could be about adoption rights. I do not intend here to repeat my previous arguments. I am appealing here for more time for reflection before a final decision is taken. This is what was done, for example, in Denmark. The Malta draft is fashioned on a Danish law which came into force in 1989. That law did not include adoption rights. It was only in 2010 that the Danish Parliament gave same-sex couples in registered partnerships the right to adopt jointly. Other countries did the same thing.

Given the conflicting results of research about adoption by same-sex couples and the local socio-cultural milieu, would it not be better if a parliamentary commission is set up to study the matter and advise Parliament within a reasonable period of time?

One also hopes that during the debate about this law MPs would take a similar attitude to that adopted during the debate on divorce legislation. There was then, and there should be now, the fruitful use of the committee stage to propose and approve amendments that could result in a law which had the approval of the vast majority of Parliament. Such a law would fully respect the rights of the members of same-sex couples as well as those of heterosexual couples who are not married without the need of redefining marriage. The law’s protection should also be extended to any cohabitating persons in a non-sexual relationship.

Rushing through such a fundamentally important law would be counter-productive.

joseph.borg@um.edu.mt

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