Celebrating Misrepresentation

A party and a protest. Manifestations of victory and mourning collide in Valletta when one extreme of society calls upon its supporters to celebrate their enemies’ crushing defeat while the conservatives shed tears among hyperboles and exaggerations.

It is fantastic for all the same-sex couples who can finally accede to the institution of marriage. It is sad that this moment had to be sabotaged by extremists claiming to represent the LGBTQi community but who are more intent on exacting their revenge on the conservative elements of society by going overboard and pushing an inconsistent and unrepresentative law.

Same-sex couples deserved access to the institution.

The world is not divided between those who are in favour of same-sex marriages and those who are against.

There are also those who, while being in favour of the introduction of same-sex marriages, are pointing out the inadequacies of the legislation as proposed.

There are those who, while being in favour of the introduction of same-sex marriages, do not see any reason why the current regime should be watered down instead of added to.

There are those who, while being in favour of the introduction of same-sex marriages, are not represented either by the bible-toting conservatives or by the rabid reactionaries who misrepresent the LGBTQi communities’ real interests.

The noisy battle between extremist factions has clouded out logic and reason. When this happens, the mechanisms of representation are sabotaged and society is no better off. The squabble between “confessionals” and “pseudo-liberals” has deprived the nation of real representation. Empowering minorities does not mean replacing one hegemony with another, it means regulating while bearing in mind all interests and opting for balanced solutions. By turning what could have been a proper debate to introduce a just and equitable law into a battle of extremes the participants have sabotaged parliamentary representation – aided and abetted by short-sighted politicians wanting to jump on this or that bandwagon.

We may applaud the belated introduction of gay marriage but sadly this day will go down as a sad day for parliamentary representation. We are stuck in the middle between the jokers and the clowns. Society as a whole does not deserve this type of representatives.

 

The other extremists
Exclusive Invite – Victory celebration.

Ban the Bikinini

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A French court has given some reprieve to the burkini craze that struck the last part of the crazy summer news. After several French beach-side resorts had banned the wearing of the burkini at the beach things had gotten even hotter with a few incidents of aggression. We had also seen some officers of the law inflict fines on women who insisted on wearing the apparel that many conservatives perceived to be provocative. One aspect of the burkini saga was particularly jarring and confusing. On the one hand those who could be said to be of a liberal frame of mind would argue that it is not up to the state to tell women what they can or cannot wear at the beach. This was not to be an extension of the “public security” debate surrounding the burqa. Here was another facet of the issue – whether the wearing of a burkini is yet another vindication of the rights of self-determination under the western-style package of individual rights.  The counter-argument of course was made that the burkini is yet another extension of the “oppressive” nature of Muslim strictures. Women, the counter-argument goes, should not be forced to wear a burkini or a burqa and therefore should either not wear them or basically not turn up at the beach at all.

I admit that it is all mighty confusing. The whole question of volition lies behind the dilemma. Is it a choice that women make of their own volition or is it something that is being forced upon them by their religion? If it is being forced upon them under the religion they freely choose to adopt is it then up to the state to prohibit the wearing of more modest attire? This is not a question of mores per se. After all we only (only?) have to go back around a hundred years to find that the social regulation of modest attire at the beach was a standard held highly by the majority of the members of society. Even closer to this day and age I have a very clear recollection of groups of women hitting the beaches early in the morning and swimming in full black dress. A religious inclination and interpretation of the concept of modesty was behind it all at the time too.

I’m just back from a holiday in the states during which I had the chance to swim in a couple of hotel pools to cool off the California sun after a day of driving and touring. It was not uncommon to share the pool with men who swam in t-shirt and shorts – modesty? Perhaps. Or maybe, unlike me they were not prepared to wield the sad excuse for a beer belly that I have developed. The thing is that swimming attire IS a question of choice and the state should not be anywhere near regulating what people wear when they take their dip. The whole burkini issue got out of hand – primarily because what people wear to swim is no business of the state but also because discussing the oppression of women by some religion or another has no place in this context.

Watching Maltese persons comment on the burkini ban was another thing altogether. This is a country that still regulates what people can or cannot wear at the beach by law anyway. A woman opting to sunbathe topless in Malta will almost certainly feel the strong arm of the law come down on her. Streaking is also against public mores for the most part and the recent trend of gentlemen taking up nude walking along the sea front does not seem to be forcing any change in the status of illegality that they enjoy.

The reality on the tiny Mediterranean island is such that anybody barking about the burkini ban missed the fact that we are quite content in having the state tell us what we can or cannot wear on our own beaches without as much as batting an eyelid. Add that to your list of ironic things if you are Maltese lovinmalta, I’m sure you’ve got one somewhere.

Morning-after: Muscat does a Farage

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Malta cannot stop a company from importing a morning-after contraceptive pill that has EU approval, Joseph Muscat said this evening. Speaking at one of the meetings in the Gvern li Jisma series, the Prime Minister said he was not in a position to make moral statements, but to speak to the experts. In this case, the expert was the Medicines’ Authority, whose reply had actually surprised him, Dr Muscat said.

Then people actually wonder why Joseph Muscat gets compared to Nigel Farage. Here’s why. On the contraception pill our Prime Minister practically implied that Malta would be obliged by the EU to sell the “morning-after” pill over the counter (I don’t think anybody would be obliged to import a pill if the intention were not to sell it).

Using the EU as a monster that forces states to do what they do not want to do in their sovereign competencies is exactly what Farage did.

The truth is that following a recommendation by the European Medicines Agency (based in the UK incidentally) in 2014, the European Commission issued a decision in 2015 switching the status of two morning after pills from prescription to non-prescription. This decision DOES NOT LEGALLY BIND member states and in fact Malta still neither registers nor sells such pills. Countries such as Italy have for some time attached a further condition before allowing over the counter sale (pregnancy test). (source)

Switching the debate to whether the EU obliges Malta to decide on the matter is tantamount to washing ones hands of the decision. This is not the kind of decision making that one would expect from a progressive and pro-Europeanist Prime Minister.

“In November 2014, the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) recommended a change in classification status from prescription to non-prescription for UPA ECPs, meaning that the drug could be obtained without a prescription in the EU. Following the EMA´s assessment, in January 2015, the European Commission issued an implementing decision that UPA ECPs should be available without a prescription, amending the marketing authorisation granted in 2009 for UPA ECPs.

While the European Commission’s decision is not legally binding and does not create new obligations to the EU Member States with regards to EC accessibility, in most EU countries, the decision is being followed, and UPA ECPs are available directly in the pharmacies or are in the process of becoming available. At the end of November 2015, the situation regarding ECPs in the EU was the following:

UPA ECPs are available without prescription in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Age restrictions have been set in at least 3 countries: Croatia and Italy (for women younger than 18) and Poland (for women younger than 15).

In the Baltic subregion, the new marketing authorisation is being processed in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and UPA ECPs are expected to be available by 2016.

In Hungary, in January 2015, the government decided that because of patient safety considerations, it will continue to require prescriptions for all types of EC.

In Malta, LNG ECPs and UPA ECPs are not registered or available.

LNG ECPs remain a prescription drug in Hungary and Poland. In Croatia and Italy since October 2015, at least one brand of LNG ECPs is registered as prescription- free products.”

The decision of whether the morning after pill is available over the counter remains a national prerogative. It is a decision that must be taken at a national level. Sure, it must be informed by the EU Commission decision recommending over-the counter sales that is the result of a recommendation by a specialised agency but this does not undermine the fact that it is ultimately a national decision of which our government cannot wash its hands.

Washing his hands and blaming the EU monster is dishonest and untruthful to begin with. It also unmasks the real level of commitment that Muscat has both to progressive and Europeanist ideas.

We need more fact-based politics and less untruths. Otherwise we might as well have a comedian like Farage running our country irresponsibly.

 

ADDENDUM (from Facebook):

James Debono asks:

I am no expert on importation of medicines and laws regulating them. On a political level it would be wiser not shift buck to EUon such matters and assume responsibility. That is the non technical argument. I say this cause am completely in favour of morning after and wary of shifting arguments to EU on sensitive issues. So I can see your political point. That said the pill is available in all EU countries with differences being on need of prescription etc. I am under impression that local medicines authority has to authorize it at some point. My technical question is whether local authorities can stop any medicine from being imported without submitting a legal ground to do so (and thus expose themselves to a legal challenge) Does such a step (to ban this particular brand of morning after pill) require the approval of new legislation to justify any decision to ban it locally (and thus not open state to legal challenge)? So technically muscat seems to be saying we are not going out of the way to stop this pill on irrational grounds (while politically passing buck on single market)?

Thank you James Debono. Let me begin by stating that my post was not a position on whether the pill should or should not be available. I was simply stating that the buck should not be passed onto the EU when it is evidently not the case.

I will try to answer your question as best as I can. First of all the issue of marketing and sale of Medicines is a special field of EU law that in some cases requires special implementation of the general principles of free movement of goods. IN essence the idea is to create a single market insofar as medicinal products are concerned but the basic directive also recognises differences in MSs (member states) on certain issues.

The general principle is that a registered product should be marketable in all the EU. That is when an EU-wide license is issued. In other cases MS specific authorities (NCA’s) have the power to issue or refuse national licenses. This occurs for different reasons all of which boil down to public policy.

It is important to realise that the European Medicine’s Agency is responsible for scientific research and study of all products. All EU states benefit from the investment made by a centralised agency to vet medicincal products and this obviously avoids replication over 28 MSs.

Now for the national agency. They are entitled to refuse to license certain products including morning after pills.

You should be looking at Directive 2001/83 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 November 2001 on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use. Particularly its article 4(4) which states: “This Directive shall not affect the application of national legislation prohibiting or restricting the sale, supply or use of medicinal products as contraceptives or abortifacients. The Member States shall communicate the national legislation concerned to the Commission.”

So in answer to your question: “whether local authorities can stop any medicine from being imported without submitting a legal ground to do so?” The answer is yes since the actual point is that local autorithies cannot be obliged to license certain categories of drugs/medicines.

Link to the Directive.

Link to the Commission decision advising Member States to allow over the counter prescription.

Additional reading.

Untrustworthy. Unfit for purpose.

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Matthew Vella did a good job grilling Konrad Mizzi about his “financial structure” based in New Zealand and Panama. ‘It’s a free world. Everyone can choose whatever they wish and should seek advice on what is best for them’ – that is the clip that Matthew Vella chose to put in the headline (at least on the online version of the article) and he does have a point highlighting this braggadocio premise that underlies Mizzi’s attitude with regard to the whole business.

It’s a free world indeed and Mizzi’s financial arrangements are under scrutiny because somebody somewhere leaked some crucial information about the financial set up to a journalist who packs a pair of the metaphorical and who went on and published the information. In another case also involving Konrad Mizzi, Daphne Caruana Galizia (the journalist with the metaphorical pair) was under attack in court, being pressured to uncover the sources (informants/spies/leakers) who brought her some alleged information. The importance of standing by Caruana Galizia on that particular point is brought to bear now with much more factual and pertinent information coming into play.

It’s a free world where our Prime Minister and his entourage still find it within their power to sell the lie that there is nothing wrong with a minister of the state having a financial structure that is ordinarily used for money laundering and hiding illicitly obtained funds. They think that they can get away with it because they still operate with the propaganda method that has served labour for long – it’s not what you see that counts, it’s what we tell you that there is. This blog has dubbed it the Magritte method. Also, Joseph Muscat speaks to the ignorant masses when he compares unlike with unlike – deeming the forgotten undeclared Swiss investment by Austin Gatt to be on the same lines as the Panama/New Zealand Structure set up by Konrad Mizzi. And by Keith Schembri.

It’s a free world where the aforementioned ignorant masses still do not understand the immense importance of the revelations regarding financial structures. Those who are not blinded by the ridiculous assertion that once it has been declared it is even better than the Austin Gatt situation will still defend Mizzi’s right to do whatever he wants and aspires to do because – in fact – it IS a free world and he is rich so stuff your jealousy. It will take much much explanation for the man in the street to shed his partisan blindfold and understand that in no way does Konrad Mizzi’s declared income justify the tax structure used by criminal millionaires. Such explanations tend to be boring, tedious and technical – easily shut down by  the Labour style non-sequiturs.

It’s a free world and some journalists and pundits will still insist on giving Konrad Mizzi the benefit of the doubt. In criminal parlance they are not satisfied with finding the blood and the weapon, in the absence of a body there is no murder. Unless they see a corpse then no murder has been committed. These are the ones who believe the spiel by Mizzi and Schembri that some Commissioner of Taxes or self-appointed investigation will actually manage to do what international anti-crime organisations have never done : find out what really lies in the black hole of Panama.

The thing is that we need none of all this. We do not really need proof of any real corrupt transaction taking place. The mere fact that this kind of structure exists for the benefit of a government Minister and for the benefit of the aide to the Prime Minister should be enough to get the whole castle tumbling down. The additional fact that the Prime Minister seems to be intent on protecting this set-up and giving it his blessing should mean that the Prime Minister should be falling down like Humpty Dumpty along with all his horses and all his men.

It is not just about Caesar’s wife either. Let’s get back to the Vella-Mizzi interview. Konrad Mizzi has given us another reason why he should go and why he does not deserve to stay on as a servant of the Republic. Thankfully this has nothing to do with the technicalities of offshore funds and deposits. For the second time within a week Mizzi inadvertently gave us a very good reason why he should be kicked out of government (and parliament I would add) with immediate effect… and the reason was political and emotional:

Rewind back to the first interviews when the whole Panama/New Zealand business came out. One of Mizzi’s first statements/justifications were regarding New Zealand’s status as an open democracy, stable, lacking corruption and ideal for holding a trust. Forget the suspicions of using the trust for corrupt reasons for a second. This was still a Minister of a government that sells itself ot the world as “l-aqwa fl-Ewropa” and pushes the nation as one hell of a financial centre, competing with countries like Luxembourg to attract the kind of financial investments such as trust funds. Here was a Minister of that same government that is supposed to be attracting such investments choosing to set up a trust in New Zealand. Not Malta. New Zealand. Because it’s democratic, stable, and lacks corruption. The question begged to be asked: Why not Malta then?

And now we come to the Vella – Mizzi interview. Hidden among all the faffle about his assets and properties and how he cannot trust Maltese fund managers (!) and how he is dedicated to family planning and looking at the long-term views and bla and bla and bla, Mizzi comes up with a gem of a statement: “I don’t know where I will live in the future.”

Take a deep breath.

This man had just been elected as Deputy Leader of the Malta Labour Party. During his goggle-eyed speech of acceptance he expressed his commitment to working for a better Malta. That is the same Malta that he has contributed to tying down with contractual commitments with Azeris, Saudis and Chinese. Contracts that he would like us to believe would make for a better country – a better future. You’d expect this Minister who is so determined and convinced that he is improving the state of a nation to be committed to this future. So bloody committed to commit himself to living in this paradise in the future.

Alas no. The second reason Konrad Mizzi set up a structure in which his funds will be untraceable overseas is basically that he does not know whether he will still be in Malta in the future. I don’t know about you but this smacks like a betrayal of Malta and the Maltese of the highest order. First Minister Mizzi practically tells us that he would not trust Malta for his “financial investments” – it’s probably not as democratic, stable and non-corrupt as New Zealand. Now he tells us that once he is done with Malta he will probably not live here in the future. I can’t wait for his inevitable third foray in denying his own country. In biblical terms we’d need one hell of a mega-cock to crow three times following his denials… lord knows we’re full of those.

So you see, even before we go in the technical part of Panamagate (that would lead to an even more damning condemnation), we have enough elements to show that at least insofar as Konrad Mizzi is concerned he is not only untrustworthy, he is, as he has been known to repeat many a time…  not fit for purpose.

 

Stifling Debate

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‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….’ Noam Chomsky, The Common Good

Marelene Farrugia posted this quote on Facebook last week and I find it very apt to describe what is going on in Malta right now. Take the “conversion therapy” situation. I can finally comment on the issue without having to hear yet another pseudo-liberal claim that the only problem in that case is that the PN, and more particularly Simon Busuttil, has not taken a position on the matter. Well now it has, having gathered together its parliamentary group and decided in favour of the criminalisation of conversion therapy.

Labour sympathiser and appointee Cyrus Engerer claimed on twitter that the PN exercise was simply an exercise of counting the votes and seeing on which side of the fence it is best to sit on. He may not have been far off the mark, particularly given how his chosen party’s government had long worked out that part of the equation and was foursquare behind whatever the LGBTQ lobby would propose as a law – even if it had no clue what it would be all about.

Which is where the problem lies. Much was made about what was supposed to be Busuttil’s dragging of feet once the Church Report came out. The “Min mhux maghna kontra taghna” (either with us or against us) brigade was out and this worked fantastically for Joseph Muscat’s “civil rights” credentials. Busuttil taking the necessary time to form a position within his parliamentary group meant some sort of “lack of  leadership” or “victory of conservatism” to the vociferous pseudo-liberal lobby. By necessary time to form a position I mean forming a position amply before any debate and vote begins in parliament on the Bill. Amply before a vote is taken on the Bill.

What about that vote then? Well this is where Chomsky hits you with brute force. Acceptable opinion in this national debate was one: you have to be in favour of the bill. Any other nuance on the spectrum of opinions would be anathema and the LGBTQ inquisition and a bit would be out in force to bash your head in with a club. They did not want to hear anything other than Busuttil’s party say that it is in favour of the Bill. Hell, I was actually one step short of being accused of holocaust denial because I dared point out that the Bill is flawed in its drafting and definition. It turns out that if you don’t “get” the Bill then you don’t get centuries of suffering and persecution.

Which is a load of bollocks. In a sane democracy it is normal to be able to discuss different positions on a given topic. In my case I believe that “conversion therapy”, when properly defined as the direct attempt to alter a persons gender, orientation &c (a necessary addendum) is anathema to the world. I don’t believe it on the basis of instinct but I believe it because a convoy of scientists have proven that any such attempt at “conversion” is harmful to the subject of the “therapy”. So I could willingly sit at a table and begin the discussion on the necessity that society protects its citizens from any form of therapy that is intended for conversion.

A bit of research – thanks also to the #bornperfect campaign for the criminalisation of conversion therapy in the US (4 out of 50 states have enacted bills in this sense) – will show you that one important aspect of legislation being discussed is the involvement of professional entities representing psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors. It is best left in the hands of these entities to regulate and prohibit certain kinds of therapy that are harmful. That includes defining what exactly constitutes conversion therapy and when what is considered “non-conversion” therapy suddenly becomes “conversion therapy”.

Unless it is protecting the weak, the vulnerable and the easily exploited (which is never in doubt), the state has no place in the consultation room – science should be doing its job perfectly well without its help.  This proposed Bill should have been polishing the current regulation of such professionals and their representative entities if they are still not sufficiently empowered to control their members as happens elsewhere such as in the UK. Instead it goes for the typical blanket criminalisation of an scientific process based on an attempted definition at law – a criminal definition whose first port of call for application will be the policemen who arrest youth for skinny dipping.

Will we have this kind of debate? Highly unlikely. Not when any voice criticising the current draft is immediately flagged as a conservative opponent that must be shut up. It is the way our democracy tends to work when a government meets a powerful lobby and together they decide that a law will pass come what may. The Church up to the 90s and early 2000’s has been replaced by the LGBTQ lobby. The power of parliament to debate laws is neutered both by our system of majoritarian voting that reduces vote-switching in parliament to extreme and final zero-sum situations as well as by the social bullying that will occur in the run up to any law purporting to introduce or amend social rights.

A person who had a part in drafting the conversion therapy bill actually told me that “having struggled against the current for so long he was not going to complain now that the wind is in his favour”. I do not doubt that the sudden rush of being able to legislate whatever you fancy would blind anyone from the fact that he is turning into his greatest nemesis.

The bullying power of lobbies has been exacerbated under Muscat’s populist labour. The Developer’s Lobby is a notorious case in point. The behaviour of the LGBTQ lobby and the pseudo-liberals in the case of the conversion therapy bill does not bode well for the future.

There is no place for moderates or objective debate – even if you agree that “conversion therapy” should never be practiced, unless you agree with THE BILL or THEIR BILL you will be labelled as an opponent of the ideas behind the bill. Which is ridiculous, non-liberal and non-democratic. But then, who cares, so long as the bill goes through?

We are losing sight of civility in government and politics. Debate and dialogue is taking a back seat to the politics of destruction and anger and control. Dogma has replaced thoughtful discussion between people of differing views. – James McGreevey

The Conversion Conversation

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This weekend’s controversy is all about “conversion”. It must have been the proximity of the feast of Saint Paul.

Just to put you in the bigger picture the government published on the 15th of  December a draft law that aims “to prohibit conversion therapy as a deceptive act or practice against a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression”.  The publication through the Ministry of Social Dialogue was intended to allow public consultation on the matter. Feedback from interested parties was possible until the deadline of the 15th of January this year.

Towards the end of last week, the Church in Malta published its position paper on the matter. I shall refer to this as the Church Report. The report was drafted by a group of professionals who specialise in law and psychology and was underwritten by the Church to the extent that it is a “position paper” – as in the position that the church was taking with regards to the proposed Bill.

I mentioned controversy. There’s a barrow-load of it. It comes in the form of the reactions to the church’s legitimate position. When I say legitimate I mean that the church has every right to state its position on an issue just like any other social actor and NGO. Of course in a world that has inherited all the paranoias of anticlericalism the temptation to switch to church-bashing statements over and above the levels of normal discourse is high. It gets even higher when said church-bashing is still huge vote-drawing potential. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had a field day on Sunday turning the church into a huge conservative monster purely on a very superficial reading of the report.

In actual fact, beyond the rhetoric and facile tribal campanilism to which we tend to resort in this country whenever anything needs to be “debated” the first thing that should be noted is that were it not for the Church Report we would not be having any form of debate on this issue. As I said earlier the church has as much of a legitimate social role as a “value-former” and “value-lobby” as any other sum of parts representing a particular interest. Notwithstanding all the liberal upturning of noses at anything the curia might say the matter of fact is that the church and what it represents is still very much part of our social fabric.

All of that does not make the church right about everything it says. One would expect dialogue to involve a heavy dose of analysis, information and application of logic. Sadly the participants in our consultative mechanisms rarely play ball – and we are not alone in this matter… just take a look at what is going on across the sea in Italy on certain other social legislation.

One could, with a huge amount of goodwill and patience, try to analyse what is going on with a modicum of objectivity far from the need of vote-winning and journalistic sensationalism. Here goes.

A Bill to prohibit conversion therapy

As laws go this is a very very specific law. The proposed bill has a clear aim – to prohibit conversion therapy as a deceptive act or practice against a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression. That is the reason why we are here talking about all this. Before looking into this particular act we have to look at a related act – Chapter 540 of the laws of Malta, the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act.

That law, that I shall call Cap 540 in short, was enacted in April last year. It is already a law. It is the law that defines the terms “gender expression” and  “gender identity”. Unlike the draft Bill it did not include a definition of “sexual orientation”. For the purposes of this discussion, Cap 540 includes three very important articles:

  1. Article 13 makes sure that equality is promoted and that no norm, regulation or procedure violates the right to gender identity.
  2. Article 14 guarantees the right to bodily integrity and physical autonomy – particular in the context of sex assignment treatment (which is NOT, for the record, “conversion therapy”).
  3. Article 15 is very important in terms of the new bill. It ensures that “All persons seeking psychosocial counselling, support and medical interventions relating to sex or gender should be given expert sensitive and individually tailored support by psychologists and medical practitioners or peer counselling. Such support should extend from the date of diagnosis or self-referral for as long as necessary.

That last article seems to have been completely overlooked by the drafters of the Church position paper since on repeated occasions they seem to imply that the very counselling and support that is protected by Cap 540, article 15 would be rendered illegal by the draft bill (as interpreted by them).

Back to the laws for now though. Let us see what the bill does. In order, the bill (1) defines “conversion therapy”, (2) renders the practice of conversion therapy illegal (3) makes anyone guilty of the practice/advertisement of conversion therapy criminally liable.

Definitions

The important definition here is that of “conversion therapy”:

“conversion therapy” means treatment that aims to change, repress and, or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression. Provided that any counselling related to the exploration of one’s identity with regard to any of the characteristics being affirmed by this Act is excluded from this definition.

The biggest problem that is faced by the legislator here is the definition of what will be illegal. From a legal point of view it is the crux of the matter. On a policy point of view it is clear that what was set out to be achieved is the practice of “converting” someone from one sexual orientation (&c) to another. Such a practice is abominable in any modern society but alas still practiced as we have seen in the activities of Pastor Manche’. When strictly defined, that practice assumes that the orientation from which conversion is required is an abomination in itself – a sickness, a sin (whatever tickles their fancy and creed).

You will note that the mere fact of having reached the point of requiring “conversion therapy” in the Manche’ sense of the term is already a violation of article 3 under Cap 540 although at that stage there is no criminal consequence (which is why the need for the Bill).

The difficulty faced by the legislator is evidenced in the proviso to the definition. It is also the constant bee buzzing in the head of the drafters of the church report though they fail to put their finger on it since they embark on a series of pre-judged non-sequiturs.

In my opinion, the main problem here is that the definition that is really required is a technical one. This is less a matter of lawyers and more a matter of psychologists and counsellors. In actual fact the debate should be taking place among the community of psychosocial therapists and counsellors who surely already have structures in place that allow them to distinguish between accepted therapies and snake-oil vendors.

Therapies

Bear with me. What I am saying is that if, for the sake of argument, we were to look at a different stigmatised social group – the infamous left-handers. Granted it is not psychologists but teachers who might have been using unorthodox therapies for a very very long time in our history. Tying their left devil’s hand behind the back of an offending left hander was an accepted “therapy” for a long long time. Beatings might ensue (very acceptably in the early 19th century if not later) should the offender persist in his evil left-handed ways. I am quite sure that a teacher applying these “therapies” in this day and age would fast lose his or her license to practise (as for the beatings they bear more criminal consequences for obvious reasons). Strangely enough we do not have a bill on “the prohibition of therapies to convert left-handers to the right and righteous way”. Which is weird because the law would lend itself to much clearer lines of definition.

Back to our bill. The biggest shortcoming of this bill is, as I said, the difficulty it faces in defining what is and what is not conversion therapy. This is not to say that the bill is not necessary – particularly given that we have had instances of the practice that one is attempting to prohibit in our country and recently too. The problem might lie in making sure that the prohibition does not end up catching other areas that have nothing to do with “conversion therapy” but that might be caught in the same net.

This is what happened to the church report. It set off to explore all the alternative possibilities that, in the opinion of the drafters of the report (NOT MINE), might be caught up in the net of prohibition.

Church Report

I’ll begin by saying that apart from ignoring the guarantees of Article 15 Cap 540 when it comes to counselling and assistance, the church report does have a tendency to build arguments based on a false or untrue premise. A clear example of this is the assertion in point one that states “An analysis of the provisions of the bill, however, shows that everyone in practice will be hindered from having free access to professional guidance, advice and any other therapeutic help that may be appropriate with respect to one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression”.

The drafters tried to hinge on the difficulty of drawing a line of when counselling becomes therapy to convert and run with this nuance to reach two very wobbly conclusions:

  1. (point 5 para 3) In practice, nobody will be in a position to exercise freely the right to treat one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. In other words, everyone would be incapable to receive the treatment one may want to have after consultation with a professional person.
  2. (point 7 para 3) The State should respect the legitimate boundaries of individual freedom. It should only seek to ensure that the practices in matters relating to gender identity are undergone freely and that, as in any other therapy, they are not harmful to the person undergoing them.

There seems to be a manifest confusion between counselling and support that is protected by law and that should be offered to persons respect to their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression on the one hand and the outright practise of conversion therapy and what it ultimately means.

This is a recurring confusion and is partially based on the problem that the report nowhere condemns outright the practice of “conversion therapy”. The closest we get to a consideration of what “conversion therapy” could mean to the drafters is the point where they criticise what type of counselling would be allowed.

“(point 3 of the report) … counselling will be allowed in so far as it can help exploring one’s sexual identity but it can proceed no further, even if it can actually assist in affirming one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression through appropriate forms of therapy”.

Now this is very very interesting. The trojan horse in this sentence is the “appropriate forms of therapy”. What would a psychologist do when faced with a person having qualms about his sexual orientation or gender expression? Remember my point about accepted practice? I assume (with no scientific knowledge whatsoever) that a regular psychologist would inform the client that his qualms are normal and that there is no question of his being “diseased etc”. Beyond that? Is the church redefining conversion therapy by saying that one can be brought to “affirm” one’s orientation etc through “appropriate forms of therapy”? Appropriate according to who?

Fine Tuning

As you can see it all risks turning into a vicious circle of nonsense. The critical discourse of the bill should focus on what exactly is being prohibited, how to define it and how to define the consequences of the prohibition. As far as I can see the major problem lies in the definition itself. Personally I would be for the soft-law approach involving the psychologists’ register, accepted practices and criminal consequences for professional malpractice.

There are other issues in the Bill I could discuss such as the automatic assumption that 18 is the threshold for “vulnerability”. Why not 16 as seems to be the trend nowadays?

A badly framed law is only fodder for literal minded bigots, witch-hunting liberals and ill-informed voters. I’d apologise for the heavy wording but I’ve frankly had it up to here with political correctness.

As for the church report, I strongly commend the church and its leaders for their continuous involvement in social discourse. I do not find the report they commissioned  to be very fair when it comes to input – to be honest I found parts of it to be willingly deceitful in order to make a point that does not really exist. The absence of an outright condemnation of the concept of conversion therapy sticks out like a sore thumb in the whole report.

In a way it is the same kind of straw man arguments that were later fabricated by the likes of Joseph Muscat, Saviour Balzan (and yes, others) in order to deviate from the real issue. Thankfully for them the drafters of the report slipped up big time by throwing in non-sequiturs about paedophilia – which is what happens when you pussy foot on faulty premises in order to make a case where there is none.

Muscat has a double-whammy bonus on this one. Firstly he will once again seem to be the paladin of social rights especially among the LGBTQ community  who are really only another vote-farm as far as he is concerned. Secondly, he has managed to jump onto yet another opportunity to do some prime church-bashing and denigrate Archbishop Scicluna who was shaping up to be another difficult intellectual adversary on other political themes including the environment.

Hopefully with a bit of fine-tuning the bill on conversion therapy will go ahead. What we do not need is these side-shows that add nothing to the value of social and political discussion.

Addendum: Mark-Anthony Falzon told me he had written about this subject some time ao. He sent me the link. I love his reasoning (for a change) and I think you should read it too… Curious Case of Gay Conversion Therapy.