Over the span of a decade Malta saw a radical shift in favour of liberalism of issues which in the past were viewed as taboo. From the introduction of divorce in 2011 to Civil Unions in 2014, followed by same-sex marriage in 2017. We, through the hard work of pioneers in the field, have seen our country develop into a modern society where the saying equal love applies. Proof positive of this is the increasing number of same-sex marriages that take place over a year.
Having stated the above, as a member of the LGBTIQ Community myself, I feel blessed and lucky to be able to walk together with my partner with a sense of pride. Pride in who I am, how I identify and the person who patiently holds my hand through it all. Let us not forget that this is a very recent reality. Before the debate on Civil Unions even began, same-sex couples had to go abroad to get married, and legally recognised. In 2009, the Danish Institute for Human Rights found that “there are many gaps and data which are not available because it is not recorded. This is due to several reasons. If same-sex couples are not legally recognised, then official information relation to LGBT couples is almost impossible to collect. … As long as the Maltese society remains hostile towards LGBT persons, these people will tend not to disclose their sexual orientation and hence remain ‘invisible’.”
Looking into this analysis just five years before civil unions, we come to realise that under the previous Government of 25 years there was a part of the population that had to remain invisible, even though members of this same cohort were also found in the highest position of Government structures. However, so far as these did not speak-up they didn’t have to fear discrimination or backlash. Few were those with the courage to be true to themselves. This was the reality under the Nationalist Party, which even today tells you that taking a progressive stance is wrong and goes against social norms. The reality is that even after changing three leaders in less than eight years, with little to no consistency, the Nationalist party remains mundane and unchanged.
Let me be clear, we are not perfect, there is room for improvement! Even then, we cannot be blind to the progress achieved not only in Civil Liberties, but in business, economic development, and social welfare amongst others.
“We need to create structures where the process of IVF can start and end in Malta, where sperm-banks are available in country contrary to present system wherein LGBTIQ couples need to go to the UK for treatment.”
We now need to equate what we have on paper with a progressive mentality of the general population because we cannot keep on having 15-year-olds who are more inclined on living in despair than coming out to their loved ones for fear of the repercussion they might face. We need to create structures where the process of IVF can start and end in Malta, where sperm-banks are available in country contrary to present system wherein LGBTIQ couples need to go to the UK for treatment. If we really want to keep on achieving equality, more structures must be in place allowing same-sex couples to have a family of their own if they so wish.
Hence, with this in mind it is important to ensure that the laws are accompanied by a mentality shift. Though the question remains: which comes first, the law or the shift in mentality, the party in government must also remember that it is either, but that eventually it is up to the authorities, NGOs and political stakeholders to bring both at par. This is an exercise which the Robert Abela Administration undertakes and is aiming at achieving – testament to this is the amendment to the Divorce Act. An amendment which reduces the period to file a divorce from 4 years to 6 months (de facto) and 1 year (de jure). When this bill comes into force, Malta will become one of the most liberal divorce regimes in all of Europe.
Over the past years, the Labour Government has done its share of good and provided a sense of financial security even to those facing social or financial difficulties. Thus, amidst all the media criticism, the merits of which shall not be discussed, we must also remind ourselves of the good that has been done and which is yet to be achieved.
I am proud that Malta can be a best practice, and that in this field – we lead not follow!