Just four couples opted for a civil union as a means of pledging themselves to one another last year, with marriage equality laws having made the 2014 legislation almost redundant.

Of the four civil unions, one was between a man and a woman and the other three between same-sex couples, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told parliament on Tuesday evening. He was answering a parliamentary question by Labour MP and whip Byron Camilleri.

The miserly number represents a significant drop from previous years. In April 2017, Equality Minister Helena Dalli had said that 163 couples had opted for civil unions since they were introduced into Maltese law in April 2014 – an average of 54 every year. 

By June of that year, that number had shot up to 200

A few months after Dr Dalli shared those numbers, parliamentarians went one step further and introduced marriage equality legislation, effectively allowing same-sex couples to tie the knot more conventionally. A legal notice commencing that law was issued on September 1 of that year.

Civil union laws give couples a legally recognisable acknowledgement of their partnership, setting them at a par with married couples and ensuring any children they have are protected by law.

It appears local legislators were themselves aware that marriage equality laws would eventually eclipse civil unions: a 2017 amendment to the Civil Unions Act allows couples who tied the civil union knot before marriage equality laws came into force to convert their union to a fully-fledged marriage, provided they do so by 2022.

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