LGBTQ Advocates in Malta Push Back Against Religious Opposition to New Equality Bill

The Equality Bill being currently being debated in Malta, a majority Catholic nation, has been facing pushback from religious groups the past few months. These groups seek a “conscientious objection” clause added to the bill that would allow faith-based schools and other institutions to be exempt from the proposed law’s LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. In an opinion piece for Malta Today, Cynthia Chircop and Joe Grima of the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement argue that a conscientious objection clause is nothing more than a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, as well as people who are planning on getting divorced.

As the writers explain it, the Equality Bill would “gather together those equality protections that already exist in Maltese law,” including access to goods and services, as well as employment. While individual laws exist, this larger bill would bring them together as a whole. Also included as protected classes are factors of race, language, age, and religion, but what seems to be of particular concern to religious opponents are issues of gender and sexuality. 

The bill, if it becomes law, would mean that a “church school cannot refuse to employ a gay man and it cannot make a trans employee redundant [laid off] solely because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.” But the writers claim that a conscientious objection clause “could theoretically span from selecting teachers based on their religious beliefs, superseding competence and qualifications, to making teachers redundant if they were to start divorce proceedings against their ex-spouses.”

Chircrop and Grima point out the opposition’s call for a conscientious objection clause is unnecessary because there already exists an article within the bill which allows religious schools to enforce faith-based policies of instruction. So, the law would protect a gay teacher’s employment as long as the teacher does not instruct students about LGBTQ issues that are not approved by the church institution. The opposition lobbyists do not feel that this exemption is enough. Chircrop and Grima also point out that if the conscientious objection clause were to pass, it would then open the door for other institutions to discriminate widely, including “extremist ones that preach intolerance.” The authors ask: “Should a doctor refuse to give a referral for IVF treatment to a lesbian couple because they believe same sex couples should not have children?”

Chricop and Grima end by appealing to the common sense of their readers, and extol the continual virtues of Catholic education. “Clearly, we do not expect Church and other faith schools to abandon their ethos….nevertheless, just like any employer in Malta…the employment process is expected to be based solely on competence, qualifications, and experience. Nothing more, and nothing less.”

Malta remains a heavily Catholic nation, but has also been a leader on LGBTQ civil rights in Europe. In 2018, ILGA-Europe ranked Malta as first among 49 European countries when it comes to LGBT rights. In recent years, Malta has banned conversion therapypassed marriage equality, and been the “gold standard” on transgender rights. Maltese church leaders have been fairly inclusive of LGBT people, too.

Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, September 12, 2020

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