In yet another LGBT equality advance for the officially Catholic nation of Malta, that nation’s parliament legalized same-gender this week.
Legislators passed the Marriage Act in a 66-1 vote, building on the 2014 passage of civil unions for same-gender couples.
The new law’s language says it seeks “to modernise the institution of marriage and ensure that all consenting, adult couples have the legal right to enter into marriage.” The Washington Post reported:
“[Prime Minister Joseph] Muscat had said it would be ‘discriminatory’ to have separate laws for mixed and same-sex couples. So the amendments to existing laws included eliminating any reference to ‘husband and wife.’ In its place is now the gender-neutral term ‘spouse’ to cover all situations.
“The law also calls for the removal of the terms ‘father’ and ‘mother,’ to be substituted by ‘parents.’ Lesbian couples who have children via medical interventions are distinguished by the terms ‘the person who gave birth’ and ‘the other parent.'”
Passing the law allows Maltese society to affirm that now “we are equal,” said Muscat, who made passage of marriage equality a hallmark of his party’s campaign in elections this past June.
Gabi Calleja of the Malta Gay Rights Movement said this victory was particularly meaningful because, for most same-gender couples, marriage, and not civil unions, is “the institution that best expresses the commitment and love they have for each other.”
Unlike in many other nations where civil marriage equality has been considered, Malta’s bishops remained relatively quiet about the issue. Last month, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta did speak in defense of a heteronormative understanding of marriage, saying marriage equality would be “lamentable.”
But the nation’s bishops failed to include the issue in their 2017 election letter, and even publicly distanced themselves from a newspaper ad from anti-equality Catholics that used extreme rhetoric. These actions build on their LGBT-positive record, which includes apologizing for initial support of conversion therapy and not punishing a priest who blessed a same-gender couples’ relationship.
The bishops have also listened closely to members of the Catholic LGBT groups Drachma and Drachma Parents. Indeed, Bishop Mario Grech said his encounter with parents helped him understand the urgent need for new pastoral care of LGBT people.
Marriage equality’s passage is but the latest step for LGBT equality taken by the small island nation: it passed a law on transgender and intersex rights that is considered the gold standard in Europe; it was the first nation in Europe to ban conversion therapy; it has welcomed an openly transgender legislator; and it has witnessed true dialogue happen between the bishops and other Catholics.
More than 90% of Maltese citizens identify as Catholic, including the prime minister, and Roman Catholicism remains the state religion in the nation’s Constitution. What happened in Malta is historic not only for the people of that nation, but for Catholics worldwide. Celebrating marriage equality in another highly-Catholic nation is a reminder, once again, that Catholics support LGBT rights because of and not in spite of their faith. In February, I wrote about the lessons Malta can teach other Catholic nations, which you can find here. This week, those lessons are doubly true.
Congratulations to Maltese LGBT Catholics, their families, and allies–and, indeed, to all in Malta!
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 14, 2017