In September the Civil Unions Bill was presented in parliament by Helena Dalli, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties. Once signed by the President, anyone who signs a Civil Union contract will have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else who is married. However, the main focus of this bill was the fact that same-sex couples would also eligible to apply for a civil union. They would therefore be entitled to get married, and moreover, to adopt children together and be recognized as the legal parents.
Twenty-two out of the fifty-one countries in Europe have some form of same-sex union. Most of these are in fact members of the European Union. In nine of these countries it is actually seen as a same-sex marriage, such as in France and Spain. Furthermore, in the years to come more and more countries are considering legalising same-sex relationships.
However the road to civil unions was not an easy one. In a poll carried out by Eurostat in 2006 it showed only a mere 18% supported same-sex unions. Three years later there was a massive leap with 49% of University students being in favour of same-sex unions. And in 2011, 56.5% were in favour of same-sex marriage.
And today, the civil union bill has definitely taken our island by storm. Being quite a conservative country, the notion of civil unions might still seem as a bit too liberal. On the other hand, Maltese people are no strangers to equality and human rights available for all. Keeping these things in mind, we conducted a survey to analyse the wide ranging opinions of various people. The aim of the survey was to note the citizens’ shifting perspective when different elements to the civil union’s equation were added.
From the 44 participants in the survey, 32 were female and 12 were male. We noted an interesting mix of sexual orientations, 20.5% identified themselves as homosexuals, 70.5% hetereosexuals and 9% bisexual
When solely inquiring about civil unions, the majority answered positively and pointed out that homosexuals should not be isolated from hetereosexuals since they are both humans and as one participant pointed out, ‘should not be put in a box’. Moreover, some people deemed the mere fact of putting this bill up for debate close to ridiculous. Contrastingly, the minority of participants who reacted negatively to the bill showed scepticism due to religious beliefs, however this was not a common answer.
These points of view change completely when children and their adoption by homosexual couples is added to the equation. Thirty-two participants were in favour and twelve against adoption of children by same-sex couples. Here certain trails of thought are definitely worth mentioning. One participant emphasises that when a same-sex couple wants to adopt, one can never argue that the child is ‘unplanned’ since the couple would surely want to raise the child should they decide to adopt. Once again, there is continuous reference to the equal love that homosexuals are able to give to their children when compared to heterosexual couples. People who replied against adoption commented that it is in the best interests of the child since these children will be more prone to bullying and as a result the child will suffer. Additionally, respondents radically appealed for people to keep an open mind on the matter. Here we note that citizens on both sides of the same coin have a different perspective on what the best interests of the child are: is it in the best interest of the child to have a family regardless of sexual orientation or is it the prevention of bullying from the early stages of the infant’s life?
On the whole one may comment that citizens are becoming increasingly open minded on such matters and although some might still consider the Maltese society as conservative and homophobic, it is difficult not to admit that people are slowly and constantly edging away from traditional perspectives and paving the way for a more liberal and accepting one. This process will take a considerable amount of time but as participants pointed out, is not impossible to achieve. From this survey, we noted that people are mostly concerned with the best interests of the child and the equal, accessible and recognisable rights to all.