Malta – Only 45,000 people call Malta home, but the small country has seen dramatic change in their laws concerning marriage since it joined the EU in 2004. Even though Catholicism is the official religion in Malta, the European country is discussing legalizing same-sex marriage.
“Malta wants to keep leading on LGBT issues and civil liberties, to serve as a model for the rest of the world,” Prime Minster Joseph Muscat told BBC in an interview.
Legalizing same-sex marriage has been a discussion in Malta since Minister Joseph Muscat revealed his intentions for the legalization on International Women’s Day in 2016. It is currently illegal in Malta for two people of the same sex to marry. However, same-sex civil unions have been recognized in Malta since 2014.
Gay marriage is not the only issue being discussed in Malta’s courts. Their Marriage Act was modified as well. Terms such as “mother,” “father,” “husband,” and “spouse” were erased from their legal documents. The terms were replaced with gender neutral phrases. The bill also will provide gay couples equal rights in the eyes of the court to raise children.
“The suppression of the cherished terms ‘husband and wife’, ‘mother and father’ in Maltese law in lamentable,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna said in a BBC interview.
In 2014, Archbishop Scicluna visited with Pope Francis about the Catholic Church in Malta. He said Pope Francis was “shocked” by a bill that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children. He encouraged the archbishop to speak out against the issue.
“We discussed many aspects…and when I raised the issue that’s worrying me as a bishop [the same-sex adoption bill] he encouraged me to speak out,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna told The Sunday Times of Malta in an interview.
The bill to introduce same-sex marriage was moved to parliament on June 24, 2017. Concerns were raised about gender-specific references, which prompted a second reading of the edited bill. Debate on the second reading is currently underway, and the Malta Independent reported that the final vote on the bill will take place on July 5, 2017.
A same-sex couple in Malta would not be able to demand that a priest or member of the Church witness their marriage. The new law provides protection for religious officials from being obligated to witness a union that their religion does not agree with.
Malta joins twelve other EU states that allow same sex marriage including: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK (excluding Northern Ireland).