Rights of same-sex couples
Gay rights activist uncertain about cohabitation law
by Francesca Vella
The Malta Independent Online, 14/09/32010
As Members of the European Parliament called for more rights for same-sex couples in Europe, gay rights activist Patrick Attard is uncertain about the proposed cohabitation law, which Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said will be enacted by the end of the year.
On Tuesday night, MEPs discussed discrimination against same-sex married couples or those in civil partnerships, mutual recognition of marriages and civil partnerships by same-sex couples, as well as discrimination against same-sex couples and freedom of movement.
Same-sex marriage is a reality in five European countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden). In some others, homosexual couples can establish a civil partnership. But what if a same-sex married couple moves to another EU country where that is not the case, such as Malta?
MEPs asked the European Commission three questions about discrimination of same-sex married people or those in civil union relationships who “can experience situations of direct and indirect discrimination when working, studying and travelling in the EU”. Dutch MEP Cornelis de Jong (GUE/NGL) said he registered his same-sex couple 21 years ago in Holland “but if we go to Poland we are no longer a legally recognised couple. When we use our freedom to move within the EU we lose a series of rights”.
Patrick Attard has come up with a set of proposals for legislation that would provide for civil partnerships between same-sex couples.
The law, explains Dr Attard, should include basic rights such as: hospital visitation rights in case of accident or serious illness of the partner, the right for one partner to take a medical decision in case the other partner is unable to do so, the right to take urgent family leave from work to take care of one’s sick partner, the right to organise the funeral in case of death, the right to take bereavement leave from work to mourn one’s partner.
Last May, Dr Gonzi said the government is working on a draft law on cohabitation, which it plans to enact by the end of the year.
Dr Attard said: “I think this a very important first step, but quite unrealistic considering that the prime minister, deputy prime minister and the highest people in government seem to despise gay people.
“We have been promised a law on cohabitation for over 12 years now, so I don’t believe anything concrete will happen now.”
Dr Attard pointed out that during a parliamentary debate on the rent reform, Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg had said: “That’s all we need now! After we’ve finally decided to limit inheritance to married couples and children, now we are expected to extend this protection to those who decide to go and live with someone of the same sex”.
In contrast, MEPs called for more rights for same-sex couples in Europe. British MEP Michael Cashman has been in a same-sex civil partnership for 27 years.
“If I were to have an accident while on holiday in Italy, my partner would not even be given the basic right of deciding whether in such a case I should be on a life support machine or not. Rights acquired in one country should be respected in another.”
Dutch Liberal MEP Sophia In’t Veld, on her part, said that “every single EU citizen should have the same rights. It is not for the EU or governments to judge a personal relationship”. She went on to say that “the very least we should do in the EU is apply the principle of mutual recognition: we do it for jam, and wine, and beer, why don’t we do it for marriage and for relationships?” Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, told the European Parliament that “it is implicit that if you are allowed to move freely and to reside freely you must also have the rights which are coming from your first residence to your second residence”. At the same time, she said it is important to advance cautiously, to gradually bring the resistant member states to accept the general rules.
But Polish MEP Konrad Szymansky noted that the countries which do not recognise gay couples have the right not to do so. “If the state does not recognise it for anyone it is not discriminating and then this debate is a waste of time.”
The Maltese MEPs have been asked to comment on the matter, but none of them had replied to our questions by the time of writing.