MALTA'S parliament has voted to allow same-sex couples to marry, three years after passing a law permitting civil partnerships in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation.

The breakthrough comes just weeks Taiwan and Germany legalised gay marriage, leaving Australia in the dust.

Malta, the EU's smallest nation, becomes the bloc's 15th country to legalise same-sex unions. Only one politician out of 67 in the Maltese parliament voted against the legislation, signalling its broad support on the island nation.

Nationalist politician Edwin Vassallo cited his Catholic faith and its incompatibility with what he called a "morally unacceptable" law.

"A Christian politician cannot leave his conscience outside the door," when he enters parliament, Mr Vassallo said.

The vote was one of Labour Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's first actions following his election victory last month.

"It's a historic vote. This shows that our democracy and society have reached a level of maturity and we can now say that we are all equal," he said after the text was passed.

The influential Catholic Church was solidly opposed to the bill but gay rights activists on Wednesday hailed the result, rallying in downtown Valetta under the banner: "We've made history".

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.

The vote's passage marked the latest evidence of the transformation of the once-conservative nation of about 440,000 people, where divorce was illegal until 2011.

Countries that have legalised same-sex marriage:

  • Argentina 
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Colombia
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • South Africa
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

While abortion remains banned in Malta, adoption by same-sex couples has been legal since civil unions were introduced in 2014. Last year, the number of exclusively civil marriages eclipsed the number of church weddings for the first time.

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.

"I can decide that a carob and an orange should no longer be called by their name," he said in a homily a few days after parliament started debating the legislation.

"But a carob remains a carob and an orange remains an orange. And marriage, whatever the law says, remains an eternal union exclusive to a man and a woman."

Prime Minister Muscat had said it would be "discriminatory" to have separate laws for mixed and same-sex couples. So the amendments to existing laws included eliminating any reference to "husband and wife." In its place is now the gender-neutral term "spouse" to cover all situations.

The law also calls for the removal of the terms "father" and "mother," to be substituted by "parents."

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: Any reference to "maiden name" is replaced with "surname at birth," while couples can now choose what surname to take after marriage. A man, for example, can take his wife's surname.

More than a dozen European countries have legalised same-sex marriage, all in the western part of the continent.
Almost a dozen others, including Italy, have some sort of same-sex unions or civil partnerships, according to the Pew Research Centre.

News Corp Australia

Good internet, parking, close to town: Rare gem in Byron

Premium Content Good internet, parking, close to town: Rare gem in Byron

AN ACCOMMODATION service has re-purposed its spaces to offer casual offices in...

8 new artists confirmed for Bluesfest 2021

Premium Content 8 new artists confirmed for Bluesfest 2021

THERE’S a lot to love about this latest line-up announcement.

NSW cabinet meets to thrash out bitter divisions

Premium Content NSW cabinet meets to thrash out bitter divisions

NSW politics: Coalition MPs hash it out in the wake of Koalagate