The human rights group which drafted the Civil Unions Act has challenged MPs to introduce same-sex marriage laws by the end of the year.

“Since the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have confirmed their willingness to endorse marriage equality, we challenge them to present a Bill in Parliament to make it happen before the year is up,” Aditus director and human rights lawyer Neil Falzon told the Times of Malta.

He was contacted after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that he would support the introduction of same sex marriage, even if certain elements of society were not ready to accept it.

Dr Falzon, who helped draft the Civil Unions Act for the government’s LGBTI Consultative Council at the beginning of this legislature, said there should be no major issues with the introduction of same-sex marriage. The existing legal unions, he said, were the same in all but name.

Dr Falzon said Maltese marriage was currently limited to mixed-gender couples because of previous administrations’ unwillingness to change the status quo.

“Look at the Marriage Act and you will see how reference to man and woman is only made once, and not in a substantive manner. This means the only hindrance to marriage equality has always been government policy,” he said.

Dr Falzon later added that this meant the introduction of marriage equality for same-sex couples would be a relatively straightforward legal step.

Eyebrows were raised last month when Dr Muscat first disclosed his support for same sex marriage, with many questioning his timing.

The Prime Minister told a Woman’s Day conference, held at the height of the Panama scandal, that he would, if necessary, take it upon himself to start the national debate on same-sex marriage. The announcement was seen by many as a distraction from the scandal.

This, however, was not always his position. Back in 2008, afew days after he was elected Labour Party leader, Dr Muscat described same-sex marriage as “not natural”

Again in 2011, he said that “love me or hate me, the term marriage is only for a union between man and woman”.

Asked about this apparent U-turn, a spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister said that Dr Muscat’s position had “evolved”, adding that this was true for many issues.

Dr Muscat’s new position was the result of “lengthy discussions and touching the lives of people on a daily basis”, the spokesman said, adding that this was seen as a way to improve the Civil Unions Act.

The LGBTI Consultative Council is due to discuss the issue later this month.

Malta Gay Rights Movement head Gabi Calleja said the introduction of civil unions had always been seen as a preliminary step towards full marriage equality. Asked whether Maltese society was ready for this step, Ms Calleja was optimistic.

“I do think attitudes within society have changed considerably and that a substantial portion of the population would support the introduction of marriage equality,” she said.

Ms Calleja added that the major resistance was directed towards the issue of same-sex couples becoming parents. While this was a cultural shift “still in the making”, the legal battle had already been won when it was introduced as part of the Civil Unions Act, she said.

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