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Malta's parliament passes stalled civil unions bill

VALLETTA, April 15 (Xinhua) -- Some six months after it was first introduced to the parliament, Malta's stalled civil unions bill passed Monday, with a new president ready to sign it into law.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose Labor government introduced the controversial legislation last October, said Monday night following the vote that the law was about equality, and that he was doing it for 'the minority', according to press reports.

The majority ruling Labor Party pushed the bill through, in a vote of 37 Yes, 0 No, and 30 abstained, local press reported.

About 80 percent of Maltese were said to oppose the law's provisions, according to a Eurostat poll and a Church survey quoted by media reports in the staunchly Catholic country.

Hundreds of supporters of the controversial law, including the American ambassador, gathered in the main square in the capital around a tent-covered gay wedding cake to celebrate the long- awaited announcement.

The opposition Nationalist Party (PN) abstained in Monday night 's vote reportedly after the government refused its request to separate the civil unions part of the bill from the gay adoption provision, which was not part of Labor's election manifesto and which the PN opposed.

As they left parliament after the vote, the bill's supporters shouted "Shame on you!" to the opposition MPs, local press reported in a Tweet.

The bill, which Social Dialogue Minister Helena Dalli said would put same sex partnerships on a legal par with marriage while also allowing gay adoption, had been shelved after former president George Abela had informally made it known to the government that he would not sign it. Abela, who finished his five- year term on April 4, had publicly spoken out on the need to " safeguard the family unit."

Abela's successor, Marie-Louise Colerio Preca, who took office on April 4, has promised to sign the draft bill into law. When she does, Coleiro Preca, the former social policy minister, will have come a long way from earlier, more conservative positions. The latter had opposed the legalization of divorce in a referendum on the question in 2011.

In the European Union, 22 member countries now have some form of civil union law or gay marriage bill and 10 have legalized adoptions by gay couples, according to official Eu statistics.

EU-member Malta worked out the 'harmonized' legislation in line with the ripple effect from EU framework directives handed down from Brussels, as well as jurisprudence from the EU Court of Human Rights, analysts say.

Opponents argue that it is not clear whether the new legislation assures children's rights and that it destroys the sacrosanct place of the nuclear family as the basic social unit for reproduction.

As in neighboring Italy, the post of president in Malta, an archipelago in the central Mediterranean 60 miles from Sicily, is largely ceremonial.

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