by Hilary White
VALLETTA, Malta, March 31, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The president of Malta, George Abela, has created shockwaves by citing “moral grounds” in refusing to sign a bill that would create homosexual civil unions and allow same-sex partners to jointly adopt children in the tiny Mediterranean country. Opposition politicians have accused the president of playing “divisive politics,” the Times of Malta reports.
The delay will likely be short, however, with President-elect Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca having already said she will have “no problem” endorsing the bill. The former family and social solidarity minister, she takes office April 4.
Maltese President George Abela
“I was part of the Cabinet that approved that Bill and I know that it was an electoral commitment made by this government prior to the election so I will have no problem signing the Bill,” she told the Times. She added that since single homosexuals could already adopt children in Malta, the change in the bill was inconsequential.
A columnist in the newspaper Malta Today accused Abela of “cowardice” and wanting to shunt responsibility for the bill onto the next president. “I also cannot understand why Abela had no qualms on signing the divorce law and now seems reluctant on signing a bill allowing gays to enter civil unions and adopt children,” James Debono wrote.
Abela’s decision, however, was backed by former presidents Ugo Mifsud Bonnici and Eddie Fenech Adami. Mifsud Bonnici said he would have done the same thing in that position, and Fenech Adami was quoted by Malta Today saying that “principles should not be for sale,” even if a politician faced resignation or even possible impeachment.
While it is changing, particularly among younger people and university students, Maltese public opinion is still mainly opposed to “gay marriage.” A poll by a news agency in 2012 showed 60 percent between 18 and 35 support creating “same-sex marriage” but only 23 per cent of those over 55. Overall, 41 percent of the population were in favor of “same-sex marriage” with 52 percent remaining opposed. This was contrasted with a 2006 poll that found only 18 percent of the population overall in support.
The civil unions bill, which grants same-sex partners a status legally equivalent to natural marriage, was brought forward under the new Labour Party government after the 2013 elections by Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli. During the government’s consultation on the bill, Dalli indicated that changes were also on the way to the country’s schools curriculum that she said currently included “outdated” materials that included only the natural family as an ideal.
Dalli said the failure to include same-sex or “transgender” family groupings was something that could be overcome in the long term and “encouraged” educators to “challenge existing perceptions and traditional stereotypes.” She said “more inclusive” material should be adopted in the future, especially in primary schools where children could be “formed at an early, impressionable age.“
“My generation had to unlearn much of what we were taught at school when we realised it no longer corresponded to the reality of the society in which we lived. I hope that future generations will not have to go through the same process,” Dalli said.
Although official census reports indicate Malta remains an overwhelmingly Catholic country, new attitudes, particularly on sexuality, are developing rapidly. A recent survey taken by the chaplaincy at the University of Malta found that only 44 percent of students opposed divorce and three quarters approved of pre-marital sexual relations and unmarried cohabitation.
Catholic attitudes towards sex and the family have been eroding for some time in Malta and the country is experiencing the same demographic challenges of other European countries. The Maltese total fertility rate stands at 1.54 children born per woman. The median age is 42.1 years for women, 85.8 percent of whom regularly use some form of artificial contraceptive.