July 6, 2017 at 1:37 am EDT | by Helen Parshall
Malta set to legalize same-sex marriage this month

Malta, gay news, Washington Blade

Lawmakers in Malta on July 5, 2017, nearly unanimously approved a same-sex marriage bill. It is expected to pass on its final reading next week. (Photo public domain)

Lawmakers in Malta on Wednesday nearly unanimously approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to legally marry. The Marriage Equality Bill — which is anticipated to receive final approval next week without government opposition — is another sign of the progress the majority Catholic country has made towards LGBT equality in the last decade.

“Malta wants to keep leading on LGBT issues and civil liberties, to serve as a model for the rest of the world,” said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in a recent interview with the BBC.

Passing full marriage equality was an integral piece of Muscat’s platform for re-election last month. Advocates say they anticipate the bill will be enacted before the end of July.

The Marriage Equality Bill has a broader scope than simply adjusting the language of marriage, consisting of changes to words such as “father” and “mother” or “husband” and “wife” across a spectrum of laws

“We have unanimous parliamentarian support in favor of LGBT rights in Malta,” said Joseph Peregin.

Joseph and his wife, Joseanne Peregin, are active within the Christian Life Community and founders of three LGBT-focused groups, Drachma Parents, ENP and the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

“As parents, we work within these organizations to provide safe spaces for discussion and engagement with difficult, controversial and delicate LGBTI+ related issues,” said Joseph Peregin.

Catholic hierarchy remains opposed to marriage bill

With Catholicism the country’s state religion, it is remarkable how far the Maltese government has come in such a short time.

“Unfortunately, this does not always reflect itself within society at large,” said Joseph Peregin. “Some pockets of society are clinging to established norms that have been greatly influenced by a conservative and traditional, Catholic background.”

“While the Conservatives — especially their leader and a number of leading members of parliament — have pledged they will support the government’s proposals, we are still seeing factions within the party that oppose this law, stating they are asked to vote against their conscience,” said Ruth Baldacchino, co-secretary of ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. “The archbishop of Malta also has been expressing his objection to changing marriage laws, as are other members of the Catholic Church — but at this stage, that is to be expected.”

ILGA-Europe ranked Malta first atop its Rainbow Index for its second year in a row for the country’s advancements on LGBT rights.

“We still witness considerable homophobic discourse on social media, and discrimination against LGBT people is far from being eradicated,” said Joseph Peregin. “At times we feel that the remarkable legislative achievements recently made are to some extent making it more challenging at grassroots level.”

Advocates credit the country’s 2004 entry into the European Union for having opened the door for the work of the Maltese LGBT community.

“Malta has undergone several social changes over the past decade that … all paved the way to look into the needs of the Maltese LGBT community,” said Christian Vella, an LGBT advocate.

Vella identified Malta’s 2011 law legalizing divorce and the 2012 bill regulating in vitro fertilization as integral steps in this progress.

“Soon enough, the Civil Unions Act passed and later in 2015, the Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sex Characteristics Act was approved unanimously,” continued Vella.

The Peregins were guided by their Christian faith when their son came out to them 12 years ago.

“Ignatian Spirituality propels us to be sensitive to the marginalized members of society, and expand our appreciation of God’s abundance and limitless love by embracing all that He has created” said Joseph Peregin. “We had a lot of catching up to do once we found ourselves advocating in support of our children’s rights and dignity.”

Just last year, Malta became the first country in Europe to outright ban the practice of so-called “conversion therapy,” the umbrella term used by advocates to refer to harmful therapeutic and often religiously-guided practices aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Two years ago, Malta’s LGBTIQ Consultative Council in partnership with the Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties, published an ambitious action plan to guide the work of establishing laws that “lead to the enjoyment of all human rights and civil liberties” for LGBT people across Malta.

“The consultative council brought together representatives from various NGOs already working in the field and spearheaded this progress,” said Joseph Peregin. “We met regularly to understand better the reality on the ground and to identify collaboration with each other, so that LGBT persons and their families would find the necessary support.”

After the marriage bill passes, advocates say their work is far from finished.

“I am more concerned with those in power — bishops and priests, doctors, politicians – who misinform, scare, threaten, and instigate confusion — for the sake of maintaining their power and privileges,” said Baldacchino. “While we celebrate and recognise the achievements we’ve had in the last few years, we are aware that there are still many gaps.”

Next on the horizon is tackling reproductive rights, according to Vella.

“LGBTI advocates in Malta are determined in abolishing all forms of inequality and will remain standing till total equality is achieved,” said Vella.

Helen Parshall is an avid writer pursuing a master’s degree in multi-platform journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. She graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a B.A. in English and a concentration in Latin American studies in 2014.

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