Since the Civil Union law came into force four years ago, and following the celebrated adoption of Ben in 2016, very few same-sex couples in Malta have managed to adopt children, even though it is now legal to do so.
This is not necessarily because they aren’t trying. What many same-sex couples are finding out is that the process of adoption in Malta is a minefield. And despite the change in the law, it may very well be just as hard to adopt children as when it was illegal.
There have been three adoptions by same-sex couples
Identity Malta, the public administrator of matters relating to passports and identity documents, told Lovin Malta there have been three adoptions by same-sex couples in Malta so far.
That means two more children have been adopted following the adoption of Ben, a young boy with Down Syndrome who had been refused by more than 50 couples in Malta before being ultimately matched with his same-sex adoptive parents.
There isn’t much information available about the circumstances in which the other two children were adopted but what we know is that both of them were male, one was four years old and the other was a one-year-old.
Not every foreign country allows for same-sex couple adoptions
One of the major barriers to adoption is that many countries which send their children to be adopted in Malta do not want the children to be adopted by same-sex couples.
“Even though it is lawful for a same-sex couple or a single gay person to adopt, the Maltese government has no control on the unwillingness of the sending country to send a child to a gay couple/single person,” activist, researcher and father of Ben, Kris Grima told Lovin Malta.
And some of the countries that do allow for same-sex couple adoption only send children to other countries in certain circumstances. Portugal, for example, is only allowing Maltese couples to adopt Portuguese children because they are ‘SOS adoptions’ – that is, the Portuguese government is desperate to have the kids adopted.
Mr Grima said there are 26 countries to date that are more than willing to send children to same-sex couples/single persons. He questions why communication with these countries has not yet started by the Maltese government.
‘Society is still purely heterosexist’
Mr Grima told Lovin Malta that same-sex couples face many obstacles, both in terms of adopting children and even once they have adopted.
Though he has kept his humour about it, he says society is still fundamentally heterosexist and he doesn’t expect things to change soon.
He pointed out certain issues like parental courses still being titled ‘Mother and Child’, clubs providing services for mothers and their children and leaving out the father, or even local fairs that have titles like ‘Mother, Baby and Child Fair’.
On a more practical level, changing facilities in public places are still usually in the women’s restrooms, and multiple governmental/private applications still request information from the ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ on their forms.
Mr Grima asks: “Why can’t the word ‘parent’ replace the word ‘mother’? Where is the father in all this? We had instances where the actual service provider thought my husband was the child’s uncle and demanded the mother to be present.”
The government made changes to accommodate same-sex couples
Minister Helena Dalli, in charge of the Ministry of European Affairs and Equality, spoke to Lovin Malta about some of the changes the government has overseen in the last few years.
“The changes that have taken place are primarily legal in nature, and hardly any changes needed to be effected with regard to the functioning of the civil service or other matters regulated by it,” the Minister said, when asked whether the legal changes have been followed up with a more holistic approach to how things are handled in practice.
“Our exercise to bring the law in line with current realities saw the government introduce civil unions in 2014, which offers a new institution with rights and obligations on a par with marriage to all couples regardless of gender or sexuality. Subsequently in 2017, cohabitation became regulated under Maltese law and marriage was opened for same-gender partners as well. Our law now treats all couples equally,” she said.
“This process meant that Government had to review all the forms emanating out of the Civil Code regarding partnership and parenting rights,” she continued.
“And, yes, we changed all gendered references to gender-neutral terms such as spouse or parent to ensure that all realities were reflected properly and with respect,” she said, in contradiction to some of the problems Mr Grima had mentioned previously.
“Equality training was provided right after the introduction of the Civil Unions Act as a number of professionals needed guidance on how the change in legislation effected their work (if at all),” the Minister said.
“The Marriage Equality Act was not followed by training though as the same principles that were discussed following the introduction of the Civil Unions Act still stand,” she said.