UPDATED 4.55pm: Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said today he was in favour of gay marriage and believed it was time for a debate on the matter.
Dr Muscat was asked by a woman who said she was in a gay relationship for his position about the matter when taking part in an activity to mark Woman's Day.
He said that even if the country was not ready for this change, there were times when strong leadership was needed to take decisions the country might not be ready for.
Asked later whether he was using the subject as a smokescreen for the Panama issue, Dr Muscat said he was asked a question and he gave his frank reply to it.
Asked what was different between gay marriage and civil unions, introduced in Malta in 2014 and which had put gay partnerships on a par with marriage, Dr Muscat said that to him civil unions had always been part of a process that would eventually lead to marriage.
In a statement, the Nationalist Party said Dr Muscat was using a non-issue to deviate public attention from the Panama scandal.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said that since the Civil Unions Act gave gays the same rights and obligations of a civil marriage, he could not see any difficulty in changing the name of the law to reflect what it really was - a marriage.
And in a reaction, the Labour Party accused Dr Busuttil that in his desperation to remain negative, he had said that civil rights were a non-issue and a deviation.
"Simon Busuttil has no credibility since he not only sat on the fence on the Civil Unions law, and spent days waiting until he said he was against gay conversion therapies, he now says that the Prime Minister's statement is a deviation."