From a European laggard, Malta is now on top of the world when it comes to legislation in the field of LGBTIQ rights and responsibilities.
There are various reasons why this happened. First, the divorce referendum in 2011 represented a historic break which enabled the mainstreaming of civil rights in Malta’s political agenda. This took place in the context of cultural changes characterised by an interplay of modern and traditional values, secularism and diversity.
Second, the LGBTIQ movement proved to be an excellent strategic player which chose its allies well in its pursuit of its goals. In Joseph Muscat’s Labour it found a winning party ready to uphold its agenda. In particular, Minister Helena Dalli and policy expert Silvan Agius ensured that the LGBTIQ agenda is implemented.
Third, the proposals put forward by the LGBTIQ movement did not rock the economic boat and did not have adversaries in the form of strong business interests. This is different from other civil society battles, such as those faced by environmentalists focusing on land development. But I would be very wary of reducing the LGBTIQ strategy to class analysis. I reiterate that MGRM and its allies had a very shrewd strategy.
On a personal note, I am proud that when I chaired Alternattiva Demokratika between 2009 and 2013, I was the first party leader to pronounce myself in favour of legislation for equal marriage. Back then, it was not only the other parties that were not yet in favour but also some prominent Greens.
But the past is past and Malta is now discussing the first proposed law under the second Muscat government: that for equal marriage. I support the proposal in principle but I also believe that Muscat has made some streetwise political calculations on its timing.
My hunch is that Labour is rushing things on this matter to play the divide-and-rule game, hitting the Nationalist Party when it is at its post-electoral weakest and when Labour is in its second honeymoon period.
I think Simon Busuttil is doing the right thing in urging the PN to support the proposed legislation, in line with the party’s electoral position.
Some are arguing for a free vote among parliamentarians on this matter. This could be an easy way out and is in line with what Angela Merkel did with her Christian Democratic Party in Germany on the same matter.
Let us remember that this is the same Merkel whom many are considering as the new leader of the free world. And having a free vote on matters affecting one’s conscience is not unheard of.
But in Malta’s bipartisan polarised system, granting a free vote has risks in terms of feeding the appetite of Labour’s massive media machine and its allies. Should the PN do any favours to its adversaries?
I believe that there is a way how the PN can bypass Labour’s political trap and unite its internal factions. Perhaps the party should articulate a discourse which is at once liberal and communitarian.
It should praise the liberal dimensions of the equal marriage law, namely the granting of rights, the prizing of equality and the fact that it is not taking rights away from anyone.
But it should also emphasise another aspect of the new law, one that is being understated in the current debate. Here, the PN can stress that the mainstreaming of marriage legislation can ultimately increase social cohesion and a sense of belonging. This also means that all those who are affected by the legislation have not only been granted rights but have also a wide range of responsibilities.
In this regard, sociologists such as Anthony Giddens believe that the future of family policy should revolve around the rights of children, especially when there are so many diverse family set-ups. Another sociologist, Nancy Fraser, adds that all parents, irrespective of their gender and sexuality, should be universal caregivers in the sharing of rights and responsibilities.
Rights and responsibilities: I believe these are two keywords in the PN’s quest to unite its liberal and conservative factions. Similarly, individual freedom and the common good should be seen as two sides of the same coin.