27 January 2010

MGRM's Press release following the National Conference on the Family - January 2010

This press release was sent to President George Abela, Permanent Secretary Frans Borg and a number of local newspapers



Open Letter to President George Abela and Permanent Secretary Mr Frans Borg

The National Conference on the Family entitled 'The Family... yesterday, today, tomorrow' organised by the Ministry for Social Policy was held on Saturday 23rd January and around 800 people ranging from politicians, public servants, service providers, educators, academics, and representatives of religious and other civil society organisations as well as individuals participated.

The first address of the day was delivered by President George Abela. One of his first misguided statements was a definition of family that was so narrow as to exclude a significant minority. Dr Abela defined the family as a man and a woman, in a life-long commitment, linked to procreation. He also emphasised the need for both the need of a mother and a father for the family to exist. Whether intentionally or not, he therefore excluded all those married couples who could not have children including childless couples, adoptive parents and fosterparents, single parents, cohabiting couples and any children they might have, and of course gay and lesbian parents.

On explaining the understanding of marriage in Maltese law the president held that this was understood to mean the natural union of a man and a woman based on the difference between the sexes. The implication is that a union between two people of the same sex is of course unnatural. Clinging to this ‘understanding’ is a failure to acknowledge that, while up to forty or so odd years ago homosexuality was deemed unnatural and a mental illness, science and research have taught us that this is not the case. Homosexuality is simply a natural and normal variant in human nature as well as in other species. While there are plenty of Countries that have failed to take on this knowledge and continue to criminalise homosexuality, we were under the impression that in line with other Western nations, Malta had actually moved on.

To make matters worse the President also questioned whether children adopted by same-sex couples could lead to them suffering psychological and social harm. The President seems to once again have ignored research in this area which clearly indicates that the sexual orientation of parents has no bearing on the development of children. It is parenting qualities such as love, commitment, responsibility and the ability to provide for the needs of the child that matter. To suggest that simply for the fact of being gay or lesbian one causes harm to children is as ridiculous as stating that no harm will befall children if their carer happens to be heterosexual.

His question of whether same-sex unions could possibly be called marriage is surely a moot point, since this is already the case in at least five Council of Europe Member States, namely Holland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Spain. The question is not therefore a matter of definition but of prejudice and discrimination, that is, who we choose to include or exclude as a society and on what basis.

Throughout the conference, the move towards secularisation was touted as a threat to the family with the underlying message being that anyone not subscribing to Catholicism was completely lacking in any form of value system, or at the most, could only hold an inferior set of values. So much for the separation of Church and State and the notion of Universal Human Rights!

All unmarried and separated parents were presented as selfish and irresponsible, parading one sexual partner after another with no thought to their children; all children whose parents had undergone a separation were presented as irremediably traumatised; the increased diagnoses of ADHD in children simply the result of unloving parents.

The introduction of divorce in Malta would unequivocally lead to the conceptualisation of marriage as a loose knot that could be easily untied at the first hurdle. Forget the fact that Maltese society does not live in a bubble protected from the wider World and that the concept of divorce is with us to stay or the even more contentious reality that one only has to have the means to access it through a foreign court.

The conference failed entirely to engage critically the subject matter its title portrayed. There was only one family being considered. All others were demonised and shot down a priori as was made evident throughout the day in the presentations, panels and interviews. It was in fact nothing more than propaganda for a conservative government’s agenda and the religious right that sits solidly behind it, present in full force.


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