LGBT rights in Malta

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LGBT rights in Malta
Location of  Malta  (dark green)

– in Europe  (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (light green)  –  [Legend]

Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1973
Gender identity/expression Transgender people allowed to change gender without surgery
Military service Gays, lesbians and bisexuals allowed to serve openly
Discrimination protections Yes (both sexual orientation and gender identity)
Family rights
Recognition of
Civil unions since 2014; Same-sex marriages performed abroad recognised since 2014
Adoption Yes, as individuals and jointly if in a civil union

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Malta have evolved significantly over the course of the last decades. Throughout the late-20th century, the rights of the LGBT community received more awareness and same-sex sexual activity became legal in 1973, with an equal age of consent.

Discrimination regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned nationwide since 2004. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals have been allowed to openly serve in the military since 2002. Gender identity and intersex protection laws in Malta are of the highest standard in the world under the Gender Identity, Gender Expression And Sex Characteristics Act.[1] A law passed creating civil unions equal to marriage in all but name, with the same rights and obligations including joint adoption rights, was enacted in April 2014. However, same-sex marriage and both IVF and surrogacy access are still banned for same-sex couples. A 2015 opinion poll indicated that a majority of the public support same-sex marriage, with a significant increase over a decade.

Today, Malta has been recognized for providing a high degree of liberty to its LGBT citizens. In October 2015, the European region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) ranked Malta 1st in terms of LGBT rights out of 49 observed European countries.[2][3] Malta is one of the only few countries in the world to have made LGBT rights equal at a constitutional level.[4][5] In 2016, Malta became the first country in the European Union to ban conversion therapy.[6][7] During the Maltese general election, 2017 both major parties (Labour Party and Nationalist Party) have agreed on legalising same-sex marriage at constitutional level.


Order of St. John[edit]

During the rule of the Order of St John, sodomy was considered a common practice in Malta, and generally associated with Italians and Muslims. It was common for males attracted towards other males, including knights who had to be supposedly celibate, to seek sexual favours with young looking men, identifiable effeminate males, and sometimes pederastry.[8]

Towards the 17th century there was harsh prejudice and laws towards those who were found guilty or speak openly of being involved in same-sex activity. English voyager and writer William Lithgow, writing in March 1616, says a Spanish soldier and a Maltese teenage boy were publicly burnt to ashes for confessing to have practiced sodomy together. As a consequence, and fear to similar faith, about a hundred males involved in same-sex prostitution sailed to Sicily the following day. This episode, published abroad by a foreign writer, is the most detailed account of LGBT life during the rule of the Order. It represents that homosexuality was still a taboo, but a widespread practice, an open secret, and LGBT-related information was suppressed.[8]

An uncommon case, heard at the Castellania in 1774, was when an intersex person, 17-year-old Rosa Mifsud from Luqa, petitioned for a sex change by wearing as a man,[9] instead of the female clothing worn ever since born.[10] Two medical experts were appointed by the court to perform an examination.[9][10] This court case is notable as it details the use of experts in the field, similar to the late modern period.[10] The examiners were the Physician-in-Chief and a senior surgeon, both working at the Sacra Infermeria.[10] Mifsud had petitioned the Grandmaster to be recognized as a male, and it was the Grandmaster himself who took the final decision for Mifsud to wear only men clothes from then on.[9]

British period[edit]

As a British colony, Malta adopted the Penal Code of Great Britain which criminalised same-sex relations between men. There are examples of individuals caught out by the law - including the lawyer, Guglielmo Rapinett who was arrested for lewd behaviour in the 19th century while trying to seduce a guard.[11][12][13]

Independent Malta[edit]

Only in 1973 did the Labour Government decide to change Malta's laws to match those of Western Europe.[14]

The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM), founded in 2001, is a socio-political non-governmental organisation that has as its central focus the challenges and rights of the Maltese LGBT community.[15] In February 2008, MGRM organised and presented a petition to Parliament asking for a range of measures to be introduced to protect them through the law. The petition was signed by more than 1,000 people and asked for legal recognition of same-sex couples, an anti-homophobic bullying strategy for the island nation's schools and new laws targeting homophobic and transphobic crimes. The petition received the backing of Alternattiva Demokratika. Harry Vassallo, its leader, said that the recognition of gay rights would be a step forward.[16][17]

In October 2009, George Abela, the President of Malta, met with the board of the European Region of ILGA at the presidential palace as the group prepared to open its 13th annual conference in Malta. Abela agreed that information and education were important in tackling discrimination and fostering acceptance of differences and that Malta has seen progress in LGBT acceptance. He was said that "love is the most important thing there is and it can't be 'graded' based on sexual orientation". It the first time a head of state met with ILGA-Europe members during one of the group's annual conferences.[18]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Malta since January 1973.[19][20] The Prime Minister of Malta, Dom Mintoff, and the Labour Party legislated for the removal of the British-introduced sodomy law, at the time opposed by the Roman Catholic Church in Malta and the Maltese Nationalist Party.[21] The age of consent is equal at 18 for all.[22]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

On 28 March 2010, then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi announced that the Government was working on a bill to regulate cohabitation. He said it was hoped the bill would be completed by the end of the year.[23][24][25] On 11 July, Gonzi confirmed that the bill would be presented in Parliament by the end of 2010.[26][27] The draft bill was presented by the Minister of Justice on 28 August 2012 and was under consultation process until 30 September.[28][29] The bill was introduced, but died in December 2012 due to the fall of the Government and expected dissolution of Parliament.[30]

Following a campaign promise during the 2013 elections, the Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs, and Civil Liberties of the newly elected Labour Government announced that the Government was entering consultations for a bill granting civil unions to same-sex couples, with the bill presented in Parliament on 30 September 2013.[31]

The Civil Unions Bill, which gives same-sex couples rights equivalent to marriage, including the legal right to adopt children jointly, under the legal name civil union rather than marriage, was debated in October 2013[32] and approved at the third reading on 14 April 2014. President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca signed it into law on 16 April 2014.[33]

In March 2016, Prime Minister of Malta and leader of the governing Labour Party Joseph Muscat stated at an International Women's Day event he was personally in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in the country and that it was "time for a national debate" on the issue.[34] The opposition Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil responded by stating that though the Government was attempting to use the issue of same-sex marriage to distract from a government scandal, he could foresee no difficulty in amending Malta's civil union legislation of 2014 to legalise same-sex marriage.[34] The country's leading gay rights organisation subsequently called for a bill to be put forward opening up marriage to all couples irrespective of gender without delay.[35]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

Maltese law grants adoption rights to married couples and single persons, including single LGBT individuals. Since April 2014, same-sex couples in a civil union can jointly adopt.[36][37] The first official adoption by a same-sex couple took effect on 13 July 2016.[38][39][40][41] For an effective adoption (by a single person, couple or partner) a court ruling is required for every individual child, irrespective of the sexual orientation of any of the prospective parent or parents.[42]

Surrogacy is illegal regardless and IVF access for single women and lesbians is illegal under the Embryo Protection Act 2012.[43] In 2014, the Government announced it had no intention to legalize surrogacy.[44] On 7 September 2015, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that the Government will introduce a bill to allow IVF access for female same-sex couples, among others.[45] No bill has been introduced as of yet.

Discrimination protections[edit]

LGBT flag map of Malta

Since 2004, Malta has a ban on anti-gay discrimination in employment, in line with European Union requirements[17] but discrimination remained common to some extent until 2009 according to results through questionnaires carried with the participation of the LGBT community.[46] Anti-discrimination protections were expanded in June 2012.[47]

In June 2012, Parliament amended the Criminal Code to prohibit hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.[48][49][50]

On 14 April 2014, the Parliament of Malta unanimously approved a bill which amends the Constitution to add protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[51] It was signed by the President on 17 April 2014.[5]

On 10 December 2015, the Government launched a public consultation on a draft of the comprehensive Equality Act, and on a bill to establish the Human Rights and Equality Commission.[52][53]

Blood donation[edit]

Gay and bi men in Malta are not allowed to donate blood.[54]

In May 2016, Minister for Health Chris Fearne announced that a technical committee set up in 2015 to review the ban had recently completed its report and recommended scrapping the current indefinite deferral on donations. The new policy, if implemented, would still exclude donations from men who have had sex with another man any time in the previous 12 months.[54]

In September 2016, the youth wing of the Labour Party announced their support for lifting the ban.[55]

Conversion therapy[edit]

On 16 June 2015, Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli announced that the Government planned to introduce a bill to ban sexual orientation or gender identity conversion therapy on minors.[56] On 15 December 2015, Dalli presented the bill for its first reading in Parliament. The public consultation of the bill was launched the same day and lasted until 15 January 2016.[57][58][59][60] The bill passed the second reading and the committee stage with amendments in November 2016, by a unanimously held vote. It then moved to a third reading and later signed by the President before going into effect.[61] The MCP (Malta Chamber of Psychologists, the MAP (Maltese Association of Psychiatry), the MACP (Malta Association for the Counselling Profession) and the MAFT & SP (Malta Association of Family Therapy and Systemic Practice) have given their full support to the bill to come into law.[7] The bill unanimously passed its final reading on 6 December. Malta thus became the first country in the European Union to prohibit the use of conversion therapy.[6][62][63]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Female, male and transgender toilet sign at the Fortifications Interpretation Centre, Valletta

In September 2006, Joanne Cassar, a transgender woman, was denied the right to marry her partner. In 2007, a judge in Malta ordered government officials to issue her the appropriate documentation.[64] The Director of Public Registry successfully contested that ruling in May 2008. Cassar filed a constitutional application in the First Hall of the Civil Court charging a violation of her fundamental human rights. She won that case initially, but lost on appeal in 2011.[65] In April 2013, she reached a settlement with the Government that included financial compensation in addition to promised statutory changes.[66] A leader of the Nationalist Party apologised for its part in contesting Cassar's right to marry.[67]

In April 2014, Malta became the first European state to add recognition of gender identity to its Constitution as a protected category.[68]

Applicants can change their gender identity documents by simply filing an affidavit with a notary, eliminating any requirement for medical gender reassignment procedures under the Gender Identity, Gender Expression And Sex Characteristics Act.[1][69][70] In December 2016, the Act was amended to allow minors who are sixteen and over to have their gender changed without needing to file and application in court and parental approval.[71]In November 2015, the Minister of Home Affairs informed that 40 people had legally changed their gender since enactment of the law mentioned above.[72]

Intersex protections[edit]

In April 2015, Malta became the first country in the world to outlaw sterilisation and invasive surgery on intersex people. Also applicants can change their gender identity documents by simply filing an affidavit with a notary, eliminating any requirement for medical gender reassignment procedures under the Gender Identity, Gender Expression And Sex Characteristics Act.[1][69][73]

The Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, approved by Parliament in 2015, also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics thereby protecting intersex people from discrimination.[1][74][69]

Living conditions and societal attitudes[edit]

LGBT discothèque in Paceville

Living conditions for LGBT people have become more favourable in recent years with same-sex relationships being accepted in public though some negative conditions remain. A 2015 EU-wide survey, commissioned by the Fundamental Rights Agency, showed that 54% of gay people in Malta felt comfortable holding the hand of a same-sex partner in public, though only 40% were out at their workplaces.[75]

Malta has an active LGBT community, with well attended annual gay Pride parades in Valletta. A majority of prominent political leaders in Malta appeared at the pride parade in 2016, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.[76] There was a notable gay club in Floriana, named Tom Bar, which was the oldest in Malta. Another presently operating LGBT-friendly club is Monaliza in Valletta.[77][78][79]

In July 2007, Malta's Union of Teachers threatened to publish the details of four attempts to out gay and lesbian teachers from Roman Catholic school posts. According to the union, Church schools were under pressure from parents to fire the teachers, leading to four interventions in the past five years.[80][81]

In 2015, the donation of reading material by the MGRM, that contained the teaching of diverse families including same-sex parenting,[82] to the education department caused some controversy. Minister of Education Evarist Bartolo took a position not to distribute the material, questioning both directly inclusion and indirectly discrimination.[83]

Public opinion[edit]

Polls have indicated a quick and drastic shift in public opinion on LGBT rights in Malta. The 2006 Eurobarometer survey found that 18% of the population supported same-sex marriage whereas 73% were against (63% totally against). Adoption by same-sex couples was supported by 7% and opposed by 85% (76% totally opposed).[84]

In June 2012, a poll commissioned by MaltaToday news website found that support for same-sex marriage had increased significantly, with 41% of the population in favour of same-sex marriage and 52% against it.[85] The 2012 data also showed a generational gap, with only 23% of people older than 55 supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage while 60% of those aged 18–35 did so.

The 2015 Eurobarometer found a majority of 65% in favour of same-sex marriage, with 29% against. This was the largest increase in support of any country surveyed in the Eurobarometer compared to the 2006 results.[86]

In May 2015, PlanetRomeo, a LGBT social network, published its first Gay Happiness Index (GHI). Gay men from over 120 countries were asked about how they feel about society’s view on homosexuality, how do they experience the way they are treated by other people and how satisfied are they with their lives. Malta was ranked 27th with a GHI score of 61.[87]

Military service[edit]

Malta allows people to serve openly in the armed forces regardless of their sexual orientation. According to the Armed Forces of Malta, a number of openly gay people serve in the AFM, and the official attitude is one of "live and let live", where "a person’s postings and duties depend on their qualifications, not their sexual orientation".[88]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1973)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 1973)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2012)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2012)
Recognition of same-sex couples (e.g. civil unions) Yes (Since 2014)
Same-sex marriage Yes/No (Same-sex marriages performed abroad recognised since 2014)
Adoption by single LGBT person Yes (Since 2008)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2014)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2014)
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Yes
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 2015)
Intersex minors protected from invasive surgical procedures Yes (Since 2015)
Conversion therapy banned Yes (Since 2016)
Access to IVF for lesbian couples No
Access to surrogacy for gay male couples No (Banned regardless of sexual orientation)
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


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  8. ^ a b Buttigieg, Emanuel (2011). Nobility, Faith and Masculinity: The Hospitaller Knights of Malta, c.1580-c.1700. A & C Black. p. 156. ISBN 9781441102430. 
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  10. ^ a b c d Cassar, Paul (11 December 1954). "Change of Sex Sanctioned by a Maltese Law Court in the Eighteenth Century" (PDF). British Medical Journal. Malta University Press. 2 (4901): 1413. PMC 2080334Freely accessible. PMID 13209141. [dead link]
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  79. ^ The Out Traveler. LPI Media. 2006-01-01. 
  80. ^ MUT stops Church from firing gay teachers
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  82. ^ "Gay-themed books in schools: Children should be given choices - clinical psychologist - The Malta Independent". Retrieved 2016-04-09. 
  83. ^ "LGBTIQ-friendly books help children feel included, 'teach tolerance and respect'". Retrieved 2016-04-09. 
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  87. ^ The Gay Happiness Index. The very first worldwide country ranking, based on the input of 115,000 gay men Planet Romeo
  88. ^ AFM Denies discrimination on basis of sexual orientation The Malta Independent

External links[edit]