In the run-up to the elections, amid the confusion of pledges by both political parties to make Malta the new heaven for all, we were also promised “marriage equality”.
The political tension was high. No one asked what this meant and we were assured that since we already had civil unions, all this would entail would be just a change of name.
Today, as we attempt to go back to ‘normality’, the promised Bill is being rushed speedily through Parliament.
A mock debate is presently underway. Any serious discussion or point of dissent is readily quenched and declared null and void as the decision has already been taken. All the speeches prepared will fall on deaf ears as will any attempt to present a serious analysis.
There are, at least, six clear points of contention in this Bill.
The Marriage Act and other Laws (Amendment) Act, 2017 is not just about changing the name of the Civil Unions Act. If it was just a name change, it would not be 37 pages long.
The title is a misnomer, no longer the originally proposed Marriage Equality Act but the Marriage Act and other Laws (Amendment) Act, 2017.
Unlike most foreign marriage equality laws – the notion of equality was specifically removed from the title. In fact, a thorough study of this Bill shows clearly that it is not about bringing gay marriage at par with heterosexual marriage, but introducing the former while eliminating inherent concepts of the latter.
In the section relating to conscientious objection, the Bill does not give enough protection but limits itself to merely religious protection.
This is very dangerous if we want to remain free to live our values as individuals both in the private as well as in the public sphere.
We are all equal in human dignity but we are not the same
The Bill should guarantee the protection of conscientious objection to all individuals. One should be free to choose to live out his beliefs and values without conflict.
Allowing a vote of conscientious objection in such matters, starting with Parliament as an institution, could be the trendsetter.
It is a biological fact that gay couples cannot conceive or give birth to children naturally. Yet, we find the phrase “conceived and born to the parties” connoted to both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
This Bill presupposes illegal mechanisms such as surrogacy and gamete donation although we were verbally assured by the Minister of Civil Liberties that this assumed no such facts.
Let us hope so, because the presuppositions of surrogacy and gamete donation entail the undermining of the Embryo Protection Act.
The paramount interest of the child is no longer guaranteed. As regards to the mechanism of repudiation, child protection is done away with, leaving repudiation open to any circumstance upon the presentation of a genetic test, while before it was limited to four circumstances.
Now, the child would be further exposed to repudiation since s/he could never be genetically the result of both partners in a gay relationship.
Without acknowledgment there is no obligation of the spouse to provide maintenance to the child.
In the switch to gender neutral vocabulary, all references to man and woman are deleted.
One of the amendments to the Interpretation Act will be: words importing the feminine gender shall include males.
The word mother shall include father and vice versa. While this amendment says ‘includes’ in reality these words have been eliminated from the other amended laws.
This is an assault to heterosexual couples. The words mother, father, husband, wife, motherhood, fatherhood, maternity and paternity will no longer form part of our vocabulary.
This does not reflect equality, inclusion, or respect towards others who profoundly cherish the meaning of these words.
It seems clear that this Bill is anything but just a change in name.
This act is not about equality but elimination. If the word marriage was all that was promised, why seek to remove other words that are imbued with meaning?
Marriage includes distinct terms like paternal, maternal, fraternal, filial and spousal love.
We are all equal in human dignity but we are not the same. We celebrate diversity and the complementarity of men and women – which also have deep anthropological connotations.
Motherhood and fatherhood have loaded meanings which have been proven to play an essential role in the pedagogical formation and the development of children. No imposed law can eliminate these facts.
Dr. Miriam Sciberras is chairwoman, Life Network Foundation Malta.