Catholic Malta has achieved marriage equality and gender neutrality by parliamentary vote.
The country, which only legalised divorce six years ago, on Wednesday became the 15th EU nation to achieve full marriage equality. Nationalist Party MP Edwin Vassallo was the only politician who voted against the new marriage act due to his Christian beliefs.
Labour Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said “It’s a historic vote. This shows that our democracy and society have reached a level of maturity and we can now say that we are all equal.”
Malta, which still bans abortion, legalised civil unions and same-sex adoption in 2014. The new laws aim to “modernise the institution of marriage” and allow marriage for all consenting adult couples.
The institution of marriage will now become fully gender neutral. References to ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ will be replaced with the term ‘spouse’, the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ become ‘parents’ and lesbian couples having children via IVF or other medical interventions will be referred to as ‘the person who gave birth’ and ‘the other parent.’
Families are now free to choose their surname and children will take the couple’s chosen name. A man will be free to take his wife’s surname if he chooses and references to a woman’s ‘maiden name’ will be replaced with ‘surname at birth.’
The Catholic Church and conservatives vigorously opposed any changes to the marriage act, with Archbishop Charles Scicluna saying before the vote that “I can decide that a carob and an orange should no longer be called by their name but a carob remains a carob and an orange remains an orange. And marriage, whatever the law says, remains an eternal union exclusive to a man and a woman.”
Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil thanked his party for supporting the bill, saying, "I understand there were a number of MPs who had objections to parts of the law but who still voted in favour in loyalty to the party's position and for the sake of party unity. I appreciate this and thank them for it."
The progressive 43 year old Prime Minister has previously outlawed gay cure therapies, unnecessary surgeries on intersex children and introduced gender recognition laws for transgender people.
He has reportedly urged other commonwealth countries to respect LGBTIQ rights, quoted at a Commonwealth Heads Of Government meeting saying “I want to single out the respect for LGBTIQ persons, the lack of it.”
“The remarkable number of our countries (with anti-LGBT laws ) is, arguably, a considerable blot on our family of nations’ standing.”
“I had conversations and am aware that there are leaders who know that things must change, but are wary of how society will react to their first move.”
“To them, I said and I say, that the Commonwealth will be with them to help make their first steps. History, I am sure, will judge them positively when they do so.”