The Marriage Equality Bill will bring about changes that impact all couples, not only same-sex ones, Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli said.

Among a number of others, the changes will, for instance, make it possible for husbands to take their wives’ surname. At present, only same-sex couples are allowed to choose which surname to take once they marry.

Dr Dalli announced on Tuesday that the government was revising a Bill on marriage equality and that despite same-sex couples benefiting from the same rights as other couples since the Civil Union Act came into force in 2014, the government was working on changing the name of the Act.

Reacting to the announcement that the Bill was being drafted, Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) president Gabi Calleja said that marriage will provide same-sex couples with equal status and the recognition that is offered to everyone else.

While gay marriage has been labelled just a name change – since the Civil Union Act equates civil unions with marriage – Ms Calleja insists that marriage equality for all is a right long fought for.

“Marriage equality is a right that MGRM has sought for a number of years, as evidenced by its position paper published in 2011.

We are thrilled to have access to all the implications the word ‘marriage’ carries with it

“So we are thrilled that this will finally become a reality and will ensure that same-sex couples not only have access to equal rights but also to equal status, recognition and all the implications that the word ‘marriage’ carries with it,” Ms Calleja said.

Meanwhile, the Opposition said that it backed the move but criticised the government’s timing of the announcement, saying it was all part of efforts to distract people from the Panama Papers scandal.

Reacting to the criticism, the Labour Party said that for the Nationalist Party, LGBTIQ+ rights were a matter of convenience and not conviction.

Asked about the issue being turned into a political football, Ms Calleja was dismissive, saying that discussions around the introduction of marriage equality had been going on for a number of months and were on the agenda of the LGBTIQ consultative council at its last meeting.

“LGBTIQ+ advocacy efforts are ongoing and happen independently of other current events that may be taking place. The LGBTIQ movement has always championed a wide range of human rights, including the rights of migrants, women and the environment,” Ms Calleja added.

Meanwhile, the figures tabled in Parliament showed that since the civil unions law had come into force and as of last week, there had been 125 civil unions between same-sex couples in Malta and another six in Gozo.

Sixteen couples entered into a civil union abroad and registered it in Malta.

Four adoption cases by same-sex couples were approved, while one is still pending.