Malta rapidly expands progressive LGBTIQ laws but society struggles to keep up

Malta is ranked as one of the most progressive countries in the world for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and genderqueer (LGBTIQ) rights, and the Maltese Government is continuing to push ahead on the issue.

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Key points:

  • Malta has established a two-year action plan to extend IVF to same-sex couples
  • Civil Union Act recognises same-sex marriage as well as adoption and parenting rights
  • 95 per cent of Malta’s population is Catholic and the church has a difficult relationship with the LGBTQI community

But despite the progressive political momentum, the church and conservative pockets of society are still struggling to accept the change.

In the last two years, Malta has enacted the Civil Union Act, which granted recognition at par with marriage, as well as adoption and parenting rights for same-sex couples.

It introduced constitutional protection against discrimination based on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and that protection extends to refugees.

Malta also passed the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, which recognises and protects a person’s gender identity and their right to change it.

And more recently, the Government’s Consultative Council established a two-year action plan that will extend IVF to same-sex couples.

“As far as legislation goes, we actually rank at the top, literally first place in Europe, and that’s mainly because we have good partnership legislation, which includes parenting rights,” said Gabi Calleja from Malta LGBTIQ Movement.

“We have the best gender identity legislation, which also includes intersex rights, we have anti-discrimination legislation in employment, anti-discrimination at constitutional level.”

Malta’s legislation has moved forward to protect the LGBTIQ community, but the church has a complicated relationship with the LGBTQI community.

Around 95 per cent of the population is Catholic, and the church has historically played a significant role in influencing Maltese politics and a conservative society.

PHOTO: The Catholic Church in Malta is divided on the issue of LGBTIQ rights. (Connie Agius/ABC)

Divorce was only introduced in 2011, despite the Church’s vocal opposition, and it stands against many issues related to reproduction.

“The church is not present, it’s everywhere,” Mr Calleja said.

“It runs one third of our schools, a bit more than now.

“It runs a lot of our social care institutions and provides welfare services.

“About 50 per cent of the Maltese population still attend mass every Sunday, so it’s quite a force.

“I think their political power, its strength is waning a bit since the divorce referendum, but it’s still there.”

LGBTIQ community still held back on some issues

Christopher Vella is from Drachma, a local NGO dedicated to sexual and religious integration, and a member of the steering committee for the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

“At first they were cautious, and slow to do anything for the LGBTIQ community,” he said.

“It’s one of our objectives to create dialogue with the church. They have reacted quite positively to that, but views are still quite mixed.”

Mark Josef Rapa from We Are, an LGBTIQ organisation that works with Maltese youth, said the laws themselves were not enough.

“People need to be informed about these laws, how they can use them and how these laws affect them,” Mr Rapa said.

“I think people have caught up with the idea that a gay couple can get married.

“They haven’t been comfortable with gay adoption yet.

“We recently tried to introduce LGBT books in schools, which unfortunately received a negative reaction from parents and they had to be withdrawn.”