A great deal of emphasis is being placed by some sections of the media on the possibility that the Labour Party is considering the removal of the legal barrier currently in place with regards to same-sex couples access to adoption. LGBT people already enjoy this right as single parents.
The reasoning provided by the Labour Party, with which MGRM concurs, is that where the well-being of children is concerned, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. This is a well-established human rights principle which also informs current policy as implemented by the Nationalist Government through its Social Welfare agencies and the Adoption Board. The only difference would be that the sexual orientation or gender identity of the child or of any family member or other person would not be considered incompatible with such best interests.
What has not been picked up by the media is the statement, made by Minister Chris Said during the same Xarabank programme, that same-sex couples made equally good parents, but that allowing them to adopt would go against the best interests of the child since they would be more likely to face harassment and bullying by their peers.
In order for the government to be consistent with this line of reasoning then the personal characteristics of any couple coming forward as prospective adoptive parents that could potentially lead to increased risk of bullying and harassment should also be taken into consideration. Since children are bullied for a multiplicity of reasons other than the sexual orientation of their parents, this reasoning could potentially exclude Muslim couples, black couples, persons with a disability, unattractive couples, fat couples, poor couples, couples with ears that stick out, or having big noses or with poor eyesight.. in fact the list is endless.
If the Minister really believes, as he stated and as research has consistently shown, that good parenting is not dependent on the sexual orientation or gender identity of the parents, then the appropriate policy should be precisely to assess same-sex couples in the same way as any other couple applying for adoption. The other appropriate response would be to ensure that same-sex headed families would also be portrayed across the curriculum, that books and resources reflecting such families were made available in classrooms and school libraries and that a clear policy that specifically addressed homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools was put in place.
The other anomaly raised by Minister Chris Said, not picked up by the media, is that the introduction of the Registered Partnership and Rights and Obligations of Cohabitees Act will not lead to the recognition of civil unions and marriages entered into abroad. Same-sex couples will need to enter into a registered partnership under the Maltese act in order to access these rights.
The government is stating that to all intents and purposes these civil unions and marriages do not exist under Maltese law. In other words the government is allowing for a man or woman to be in a civil union with one person and for this to be recognised in Germany, the UK or France for example and potentially in a registered partnership with a different person in Malta. One wonders how well that will go down with our EU counterparts particularly when the EU is moving toward an ever greater harmonisation of laws and towards ensuring that EU citizens do not lose rights when moving between member states.
Gabi Calleja, Coordinator