Malta Set to Legalize Same-Sex ‘Marriage’

Marriage Equality Bill advances to final parliamentary reading

[The Archbishop is being hoisted on his own petard for previously supporting civil unions as a “service to the dignity of these people”]

by Stephen Wynne • ChurchMilitant • July 6, 2017

VALETTA, Malta – The island of Malta is on its way to becoming the latest country to embrace same-sex “marriage.”

A legalization measure, the Marriage Equality Bill, has passed to initial readings before Parliament. It is widely expected to pass a final vote on Wednesday.

Designed to “modernize the institution of marriage,” the bill is not a single act, but a series of amendments to existing laws such as the Marriage Act, the Criminal Code and the Civil Code.

In addition to allowing gays to marry, the measure will purge Maltese laws of “gendered” language. References such as “husband” and “wife” will be changed to the gender-neutral “spouse”; “father” and “mother” to “parent”; and in some cases, “mother” to “person who gave birth.”

The Marriage Equality Bill is the latest innovation put forth by the country’s social democratic Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat.

Muscat regards “marriage equality” to be a top priority of his administration; the Marriage Equality Bill was the first measure he submitted to Parliament after his reelection, and he has vowed to expedite its passage.

“Malta wants to keep leading on LGBT issues and civil liberties,” he told the BBC, “to serve as a model for the rest of the world.”

Traditionally, Malta has ranked among the most conservative countries in the West. It legalized divorce only in 2011, and maintains a total ban on abortion.

But in recent years, Catholic Malta has thrown off its conservatism to become one of Europe’s most permissive societies.

In 2013, voters elected a leftist government, headed by the Labor Party. With Prime Minister Muscat at its helm, Labor quickly set to work on legislation that would play a large part in toppling the traditional social order.

In 2014, Parliament passed a bill legalizing civil unions and establishing adoption rights for same-sex couples. Afterwards, activists vowed to press on until gays were granted full marriage rights

In 2016, Malta became the first country in Europe to outlaw conversion therapy — any treatment aiming to “change, repress or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

Under the new legislation, anyone “advertising, offering, performing or referring an individual to another person [who] performs such practices” is subject to fines and imprisonment. Thus, those who desire to be rid of unwanted same-sex attractions have no recourse to professional counselors or psychologists.

Reflecting on the changes sweeping Maltese society, Russell Sammut, a Maltese gay rights advocate, told Time magazine, “Life has changed a lot for gay people in Malta over the past two years. Up until 2014 we had no rights here, but once civil unions were enacted people changed their attitudes overnight. Everyone is afraid of the unknown, but now they’ve seen there’s no threat to society, they’re fine with same-sex partnerships.”

Indeed, attitudes have been changing. A 2016 poll found that nearly two thirds of the population (61%) supported amending the marriage law.

The liberalizing trend is reflected by developments inside the Maltese Church, where in January, the country’s bishops made headlines with their decision to allow divorced and remarried parishioners to receive Holy Communion.

Malta Archbishop Charles Scicluna is pushing back against the gay marriage law, recently saying “We are not against gays … . But we do not need to change the way in which God created marriage to enable us to say that two men or two women can get married.”

He also described the suppression of terms such as “husband” and “wife” in favor of gender-neutral language “lamentable.”

Archbishop Scicluna once opposed legal recognition of same-sex relationships. In 2014, he came out against the civil unions bill, warning Catholic lawmakers that “to vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.”

But he soon reversed course. In a 2016 video interview with Malta Indep, Bishop Scicluna described civil unions as a “service to the dignity of these people,” saying, “I think that we should support legislation that gives same-sex partners their dignity and their social protection.”

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