10 June 2012 by Annaliza Borg
The long awaited Cohabitation Bill is being discussed at Cabinet level and will be presented to Parliament shortly, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry has confirmed to this newspaper.
"The government's position is that the relationship between homosexual couples should be regulated by the law regulating cohabitation, including the institute of civil partnerships," he said.
While cohabitation is becoming increasingly popular, the subject is still sensitive as the Catholic Church considers cohabitation a threat to the marital happiness that engaged couples seek. Since the divorce law was introduced last year, the Cohabitation Bill is no longer the sole possibility for heterosexual couples living together to legally regulate their relationship.
The main focus of the upcoming Bill has now shifted to the provision of rights for homosexual couples, although they are not the only people living together outside marriage who wish to be recognised by law.
The Bill currently being discussed by Cabinet is said to reflect feedback from those specifically involved and the general public alike.
Last November, the Nationalist Party's General Council was told that the party would seek to legislate in favour of homosexual rights. In an interview with this newspaper the following week, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said that the issue "is about the recognition of responsibilities in a relationship that are borne between two persons, and the lack of regulation at present is creating an unjust scenario which we should no longer allow.
"My position has been clear on this from the very start and this is what we will be doing. Now we have legislated for divorce, we need to regulate the responsibilities of cohabiting couples. Whether they are heterosexual or homosexual is quite beside the point – it is about couples who are in a relationship where responsibilities exist.
"A relationship is a relationship and I hope that when people say they are in a relationship it is not just a one night stand – a relationship creates duties, responsibilities and rights which we need to recognise in our society.
"Our laws are failing us in this area. Today a couple builds a relationship over five, 10 years and there is nothing in the law that places any responsibility on partners in that relationship. That is morally wrong and we need to legislate."
Meanwhile, a private members' bill on gender identity, which mainly covers transgender rights, has been presented to Parliament. Since this is based on a Private Members Bill presented by the Labour Party's spokesman for Education and Civil Rights, Evarist Bartolo, the House Business Committee is to schedule it for discussion.
The Bill is intended to establish a register of transgender people and the procedure to be adopted for the recognition of a person's gender.
It is not clear whether these two Bills will be discussed before Parliament rises for the summer recess next month. The House currently has a list of 12 Bills on its agenda but the items may change according to priorities established by the House Business Committee.