In Maltese society, as in other societies, heterosexual and birth-sex gender conformity have long been established as the normal and sole socially accepted form of sexual and gender expression. Such a system of conformity is maintained in place through various forms of social discrimination, pejorative terms and name calling as well as social devaluation of those known to not fall neatly within the intended limits, that is, LGBT persons (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender). Additionally, this system of discrimination is inscribed in laws and social policy.
Inequality between heterosexual and non-heterosexuals (lesbian, gay and bisexual persons) as well as inequality between those who identify with the sex attributed to them at birth and those who do not (transsexual, transgender and genderqueer people) is real. An adequate redress of various difficulties and discriminations the Maltese LGBT community faces cannot wait any further. We also need to promote a positive image of this diverse community to ensure that changes inscribed in laws are followed by changes in society.
A case in point is the discrimination Joanne Cassar continues to be subjected to. Joanne, a woman who was identified as a man at birth, has undergone surgical gender reassignment and, subsequently, the gender on her birth certificate was changed. Yet, the state refuses to provide her with the right to marry her boyfriend irrespective of the fact that such a marriage is fully in conformity with heterosexual marriage permitted by law and, in a 2002 judgment, the European Court of Human Rights had decided that trans persons have the right to marry their different sex partner.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual persons too suffer discrimination. The state has dragged its feet in the implementation of the Employment Framework Directive, which provides protection from sexual orientation discrimination in employment. Unlike most EU member states, no protection against discrimination in access to and supply of goods and services and against violence and hate crimes yet apply.
Additionally, there is no form of recognition of same-sex partners and, hence, no rights and duties available to different-sex partners apply to them.
Putting things into perspective, one may argue that the Maltese situation is not as bad as that of various other countries, particularly those where homosexuality is still harshly punished. One may also say that the social situation is much improved next to what it was like a few years back. However, according to a recently-published ILGA-Europe study, within the EU only Cyprus has a worse track record on LGBT issues than that of Malta.
The government recently had to remove the clause in the law that discriminated against EU nationals in same-sex relationships with third country nationals with regard to freedom of movement. The next step is to ensure that LGBT persons in Malta have similar rights as those in other societies having progressive legislation.
In order to make this leap, the government can refer to the growing body of law and recommendations for LGBT equality coming out of international institutions. We simply cannot continue to agree to positive policy and legislative statements in international fora and ignore them domestically.
Alternattiva Demokratika fully supports the struggle of LGBT persons against discrimination and we are the only political party in Malta that officially supports the proposed EU anti-discrimination directive. The European Greens are also the most progressive party in the European Parliament when it comes to LGBT rights.
The LGBT community can rest assured of AD’s consistent and continued support. To us, civil unions should form part of Maltese law and social policy and we have appealed to Parliament to legislate in this regard, all of which has fallen on deaf ears, to date. Same-sex couples should enjoy equal legal rights and not be discriminated against in social and family policies. Therefore, they should have the right to enter into civil unions that entail equal mutual rights and responsibilities that married different-sex couples are entitled to.
Full sexual and gender equality should be achieved in Maltese society without fear of discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The government should be responsible enough to educate society, identify and prevent discrimination, provide support services and information in this regard. AD’s election in Parliament will ensure that LGBT rights are on the forefront of Malta’s social policy and civil rights agendas.
The author is deputy chairman and spokesman for civil rights and culture of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party.