Malta legalises same-sex marriage

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Lawmakers voted 66-1 in favour of the bill, with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat hailing the "historic" decision in a country which only legalised divorce in 2011 and where abortion is still illegal.

This is unexpected, unprecedented even.

Only one lawmaker out of 67 in the Maltese parliament voted against the legislation, signaling its broad support on the island nation despite opposition from the Catholic Church.

Parliament agreed to amend Malta's marriage act, replacing words like "husband" and "wife" with the gender-neutral alternative "spouse". But if you are a sexual minority looking to get married in a picturesque country, Malta might be a place to consider now.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna had opposed the same-sex marriage law, reflecting the church's longstanding view that marriage can only be between a man and woman.

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"As a Christian politician I can not leave my conscience outside the door" when voting, Vassallo said.

The Netherlands was the first European country to legalise same-sex marriage, in 2001, with the most recent being Germany on June 30 after a surprising shift on the issue by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The vote fulfilled Muscat's promise to make equal marriage the first bill brought before the parliament in his new term in office, which began last month.

The aim of the law, piloted by Malta Equality Minister Helena Dalli, was to "modernise the institution of marriage" to extend it to all consenting adult couples. "But we do not need to change the way in which God created marriage to enable us to say that two men or two women can get married".

All but one lawmaker supported the new law, which also opens the door for same-sex couples to adopt.

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It also replaced "mother" and "father" with "parent who gave birth" and "parent who did not give birth".

Lesbian couples who have children via medical interventions are distinguished by the terms "the person who gave birth" and "the other parent".

Other changes concern heterosexual marriages.

Same sex marriage is now legal in 12 out of the 28 member states in the EU while recognition of same-sex unions is in 22/28 states.

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