One of the arguments made during the debate prior to Malta joining the European Union was that before it did so, Malta should open its doors to the 21st century. It was argued that much progress needed to be made before Malta could join the EU. The flip side of this argument was that EU membership could be the right catalyst for change that Maltese society needed, because change can be obstructed and delayed but, in the long term, it cannot be stopped.
Malta did join the EU in 2004 and the opening of the doors (and windows) of change is currently work-in-progress. The divorce referendum held in May 2011 opened the floodgates to a recognition of the fact that Maltese society was in a state of rapid change, making up for lost time.
The Marriage Equality Reform legislation approved in Parliament earlier this week was another step. It was described as “immoral” (Edwin Vassallo), “Marxist” (Clyde Puli), “communist” (Herman Schiavone) or even “North Korean” (Tonio Fenech).
These labels identify the frame of mind of those resisting change. Apparently, none of these critics of marriage equality legislation has yet realised that this step is the direct legal consequence of the Constitutional amendment, approved by Parliament some years back, which spelled out in unequivocal terms the prohibition of discrimination based on gender.
The intolerant Christian right argues that legislation proposing marriage equality is the result of a society which has lost its values. They have not realised that their “values” are not the only ones around: we live in a society where a plurality of values is a fact. The Christian right has no monopoly: either on values or on what is right or wrong.
A number of leading Opposition spokespersons, notwithstanding their declaration of support for the proposed legislation, deemed it fit to hurl never-ending insults against the proposals being debated and all that these represented. This insulting language used during the parliamentary debate is a sad reflection on the whole of the PN Opposition, even on those who sought to apply the brakes and in fact used more conciliatory language to convey their thoughts.
The conservative opposition is in a tight corner. On the one hand it wanted to announce in unequivocal terms its recent “conversion” to championing LGBTIQ rights. At the same time the Opposition could not ignore the fact that it is still chained to an intolerant Christian right which labels LGBTIQ rights as morally reprehensible. Edwin Vassallo was the most unequivocal when he declared that his conscience would not permit him to vote in favour of what he described as an “immoral” legislative proposal.
In a couple of seconds, Vassallo and others blew up what had been carefully constructed by Simon Busuttil since assuming the PN leadership, causing some to speculate whether the cohabitation of the conservative Christian right, Christian Democrats and liberals in the PN can last much longer.
In contrast, even if for political expediency, the conservatives in the Labour Party parliamentary group have either kept their mouth shut or else watched their language. It seems that they have learnt some lessons from the divorce referendum debate.
Parliament’s approval last Wednesday of the Marriage Equality Legislation is another step in entrenching the acceptance of value pluralism. Parliament has accepted value pluralism and decided that it was time to respect everyone.
We need to realise that we form part of a society with a plurality of values, all of which deserve the utmost respect. It is possible to disagree, but insulting people because they have different values than one’s own is not on. A society with a plurality of values is a fact and nobody will or can change that.
Malta has now introduced marriage equality. As a result, our society will show a marked improvement that will have a positive impact on all of us.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 July 2017