The Maltese Parliament approved the law on equality in marriage, by which gay couples now have the right to marry.
The smallest state of the European Union became the 15th country within the EU to endorse the law on same-sex marriage; just three years after the Maltese Parliament had already approved the law on civil union. There are only 25 countries in the world whose citizens enjoy the right of such a law.
This means that the institution of marriage is now fully gender neutral to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, and genderqueer (LGBTIQ) persons are free to contract a marriage with their loved ones, be they of the same or a different sex, and also to parent children without having unnecessary references to their gender or biological make-up on their children’s birth certificates.
It also means that all discrepancies between husband and wife have now been removed. For example, both are now free to adopt or take on their partner’s surname without distinction. Their siblings would then take on the family surname that the couple chooses on their marriage day.
During the process towards the adoption of the Bill, a lot of the discussion centred on whether it was necessary to convert civil marriage to a fully gender neutral institution. Government insisted that this was necessary in order to respect the anti-discrimination provisions in the country’s Constitution adopted in 2014 relative to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Additionally, Government indicated that both the Civil Unions Act, and the Cohabitation Act adopted in 2014 and 2016 respectively are both gender neutral, and that marriage should not be an exception.
The law on equality in marriage was not unanimously approved as one of the opposition Nationalist MP made a statement before the vote that he would vote against the law. The controversy arose due to the fact that the wording in the law entirely removed the terminology ‘father’ and ‘mother’ and instead refers to parents or spouse.
Members of the Opposition Nationalist Party and a number of non-governmental organizations that endorse conservative beliefs criticized the use of this new terminology. They described it as an attack on the traditional family values and pointed out that this law will give access to other polemic issues such as the freezing of embryos and surrogacy.
While all parliamentary deputies representing the Labour Government and the two MPs of the Democratic Party in Opposition voted in favour of this law during all its stages, at least seven members of the main opposing party led by Simon Busuttil were in disagreement. However, at the final stage of the voting only one member of the Nationalist Party, Edwin Vassallo a fervent practicing Catholic retained his position and went against the Nationalist Parliamentary Group by voting against the law. He declared that although he understands that there must be a distinction between the State and the Church, his conscience does not allow him to vote in favour of a law that he considers ‘immoral’.
Both in Parliament and in his address to the LGBTIQ community in front of his office in Castille Square, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described this vote a ‘historic moment’ that demonstrates how the Maltese society has reached great levels of maturity where anyone can now declare that ‘we are all equal’.
The façade of the office of the Prime Minister, the majestic Auberge de Castille was lit with the rainbow colours synonymous of the LGBTIQ community during a celebration of dance and music.
During these celebrations, the Nationalist Party was represented by the Deputy Leader for Parliamentary Affairs Mario de Marco as well as a number of other deputies including two parliamentarians who have openly declared their sexual orientation and form part of the LGBTIQ community.
The Nationalist Party described the vote as a step towards equality in Maltese society, with the Leader of the Party Simon Busuttil thanking those parliamentarians who remained loyal to the position of the Party that had promised marriage between same-sex couples in its electoral manifesto leading to last month’s general election.
The law on equality in marriage was also promised by the Labour Party prior to the general election in early June with the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stating that this would be the very first law to be passed in Parliament during his second term in office.