One of the major arguments in favour of Civil Unions as proposed by the Government by means of Bill No. 20, is that this is a fundamental right, a right of a minority group our modern society needs to legislate in favour of, on the other hand those against this Bill, yet not necessarily against civil partnerships claim that it is a reformulation of the concept of marriage rather than simply a widening of a definition.
The question of rights risks to become unintelligible if emphasis is put on the ‘minority’ issue; by going down this route we end up having clusters of minority rights which will eventually clash with each other, with the sempiternal problem of which minority will prevail. In today’s society the most influential lobby/group in mediatic and political circles will have the upper hand.
I suggest that this whole debate moves away from these argumentations and tries to find what is truly healthy and beneficial to society; subdividing society into minorities and establishing a set of rights for each will be a step away from what the declarations on human rights envisaged. While the UN Convention doesn’t even mention the word minority, the European declarations speaks only of the prohibition to discriminate against a national minority within a society, which in itself has nothing to do with this topic.
The forma mentis of these declarations have an even more basic ground to them. Almost the whole spectrum of nations with their different religions, philosophies, cultures and traditions have managed to find the real common ground to their agreement – humanity. It is in virtue of being a human being that one has these rights and thus these are not given and must never be denied. Prof Emmanuel Aguis highlights this point quite well in his article.
Yet in trying to unravel this whole debate some, including myself, end up a bit confused. Over the span of one week there have been three different views by two theologians and a phiolsopher (among many others), two of which are priests.
I agreed with Fr Mark Montebello when he states that the Church in Malta should follow Pope Francis’ claim that the Church should be sensitive to minorities, yet in his article (Knisja bla Qalb?) he makes various comments which are somewhat challenging but albeit unfounded and illogical. He claims that on this issue the Church is giving the impression that She is insensitive to the human rights of minorities (seemingly confusing the concept of rights and entitlements) without explaining how, who and where.
Without prejudice to what I said about the issue of the rights of minorities, his question is more a rhetorical question rather than a quest for Truth, which in the end is that of any priest and/or philosopher. He holds, moreover, that an electoral pledge should be kept at all costs. Even here I tend to disagree with his argumentation since if a party pledges something which with hindsight results as an immoral (as he claims) or a bad economical decision, this should not be kept. Moreover the electoral pledge was to introduce civil unions and not gay marriages as Bill No. 20 is effectively doing.
Montebello maintains that it would be illogical to distinguish between two different genusus of unions. The illogicality would be precisely that, i.e. to make two different genusus the same, what Gilbert Ryle calls a ‘category mistake’. It is obvious that there are differences between mono and bi-gender unions. As Agius holds “differentiating one form of relationship from the other does not imply that some people are treated as less equal than others”. It is not simply a question of giving different options. Making civil unions ‘identical’ to marriage is an issue of the changing the fundamental characteristics of marriage itself.
Lutheran theologian Jonasson as reported on The Times of Malta makes a good point when stating that the Biblical texts cannot simply be read with today’s mentality full stop. These have been written in a different context and thus this context needs to be taken into consideration when referring to these texts in today’s modern society. One’s arguments cannot simply be based on cut and paste arguments from the Bible. Also true is what Jonasson says that we cannot condemn anyone’s desires, I would add, even without meeting them.
These desires are deeply rooted in one’s very being. However this is not sufficient to make civil unions identical to marriage. He also seems to recall Shakespeare’s famous quote ‘What’s in a name?’ But here we are not simply debating the name given to legally recognised same-sex relations. The issue is deeper; it is about the meaning and concept of marriage and not about the name given to the regularised relation. Words come loaded with meaning and the social context in which one understands them is indicative of their significance. So it is not simply a change in name which is required.
So what is required after all? Many have claimed that this Bill is simply not calling a spade a spade, but simply making reference to other laws in order to stick to the letter of the electoral pledge. The pledge as Montebello says, was that of introducing civil unions and there you have it … gay-marriage called “Civil Union”. Simple, right!?
I have quizzed myself and challenged myself to think as to what needs to be done. I am not in favour of simply saying no to recognising mono-gender relationships. I believe that the way forward should be based on the following points.
- An ad hoc piece of legislation: Civil unions are to regulate the relations between mono or bi gender couples. There seems to be agreement on this point (which is very difficult to find on similar topics) and thus we should use this common ground and use it a departure point. It is a relation between two persons that we are regularising, therefore this is what we should be focused on. The departure point is this relation. Moreover we canot simply ignore what’s going on in society, as if these relationships don’t exist. These bonds carry with them the responsibility and respect which is enshrined in the dignity of every human being toward one another. The state should make it possible that where such are missing or trampled upon, the aggrieved party should have legal strength to oppose such.
- Which recognises the rights and duties of the persons in the relationship: Being a recognition of relationship, the legislation should focus on the couple and thus cater for those instances, not necessarily in an exhaustive manner, where two persons in a presumably lasting relationship are recognised the rights and duties of caring and being cared for.
- And the nature of the union itself: Nonetheless being of a different genus from marriage this would entail that society respects these unions in all their possible facets and thus from a civil, physiological (as Lino Spiteri puts it “Adoption is not a right. It concerns a third party – the child”) and economical relation between the couple, and in turn this union recognises and respects the concept and characteristics of marriage.
While I sense that things are already set and the debate in parliament will be simply a necessary formality I hope that parliament and society take their time to discuss the issue. This whole debate after all is not simply a question pertaining to one sector of society or to a minority. It cuts across the whole of society. Civil unions or rather gay marriage is not simply the granting of a ‘right’ or the widening of a definition but rather the reformulation of a concept.