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The Prime Minister has announced that he is in favour of introducing gay marriages and wants a debate on the subject, as his government faces a controversy involving his most trusted lieutenants and their offshore companies in Panama.
Following the introduction of civil unions just under two years ago, Muscat addressed invitees at a working lunch at the Labour HQ themed ‘What’s Next?’ for International Women’s Day, saying “I am personally in favour of gay marriages.”
Muscat was replying to a question posed by a lesbian couple earlier on, who said they wished for gay marriage to be introduced.
He added that the time had come for a national debate on the issue, saying that “it might be a question of terminology, but why not?”
“Although some people might think that the public isn’t ready for gay marriage, I think that the country requires leadership,” he said. “We must continuously keep looking forward.”
This surprising move comes in the wake of a scandal involving Muscat’s chief of sttaff Keith Schembri and energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi who both admitted to having a company registered in Panama – a tax haven – and a trust fund in New Zealand.
In comments to the press later, Muscat denied that he was trying to deviate public attention from ‘Panamagate’ and insisted that he was simply giving his opinion in response to the lesbian couple’s question.
Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja said on Reporter earlier this week that the introduction of gay marriage will be one of her group’s next three major lobbying challenges.
The Nationalist party said the prime minister was attempting to benefit politically from LGBTIQ issues, diverting the public’s attention from ‘the biggest scandal in our history’.
“Same-sex marriage already exists in Malta, in everything but name,” a PN statement reads. “The law on civil unions offers the same rights and responsibilities as a civil marriage.”
PN leader Simon Busuttil said that he would have no problem with calling civil unions, marriages. “The issue here isn’t same-sex marriage but the corruption crisis Joseph Muscat finds himself in,” he said.
In a Facebook status update, the prime minister’s head of communications Kurt Farrugia defended the prime minister’s statement, saying Labour was still governing while grappling with its latest controversy.
“The PM gave a direct answer to a direct question and showed his consistency in promoting equality in Malta. It’s quite a contrast to the politicking of an Opposition obsessed with playing negative politics.
“What should the Prime Minister have answered the gay couple asking about gay marriage: ‘Listen here, I don’t care about your question because the Opposition wants us to talk about Panama’? Or maybe he should have done a Simon Busuttil and say: ‘I will not tell you what I think because I do not want to influence people,” Farrugia said.
Farrugia said he understood the public’s cynical reaction to the announcement, “but I really do not understand the chorus of shock and awe when the Prime Minister, while answering all the questions about the trust fund issue, finds the time to keep pushing a progressive and reformist agenda.”
In a reaction to Busuttil’s statement, the Labour Party welcomed the discussion on gay marriages but also commented on the fact that the PN referred to the matter as “a non-issue”.
“The Prime Minister was today asked to recognise gay marriages and the Prime Minister said he was in favour. But Busuttil’s reaction shows that he speaks on civil unions matters out of convenience and not out of conviction,” the PL said.
It added that the PN leader was not credible, reminding that he had not taken a stand on civil unions and days had passed before a decision on conversion therapy were taken.
“The Labour government will continue implementing changes that will mark a positive difference in people’s lives,” it said.