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Malta approves same-sex marriage, abortion still illegal

Malta has voted to allow same-sex marriage despite strong church opposition in the deeply Catholic country.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat hailed the 'historic' moment as gay rights activists gathered outside his office to celebrate
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.
He said: 'This shows that our democracy and society have reached a level of maturity and we can now say that we are all equal.'
'Pledge delivered, future secured,' he later tweeted. Calling the vote was one of Muscat's first actions after winning power in last month's election.
The bill also removes words including as 'husband', 'wife', 'mother' and 'father' from the Marriage Act and replaces them with the gender-neutral 'spouse', 'parent who gave birth' and 'parent who did not give birth'.

Muscat said such wording was needed to avoid categorising any member of society.
He rejected accusations that this could spell the end to 'Mother's Day' or 'Father's Day', saying such suggestions were 'laughable'.
Maltese lawmakers voted 66-1 in favour of a bill allowing same-sex marriage in a deeply Catholic country where abortion is still illegal
Muscat won a second term in office on June 3 and had vowed to reinforce his call for equality in society.
Gay rights activists hailed the result, along with many on social media, as they rallied outside the premier's office in downtown Valetta.
The facade of the building was lit in rainbow colours and the slogan: 'We've made history'.
Opponents of the legislation, meanwhile, held a silent vigil outside parliament. The Catholic church had staunchly opposed the move.
All but one lawmaker supported the new law, which also opens the door for same-sex couples to adopt. Previously this was possible only if one person applied rather than as a couple.

Though Malta scores relatively well in European-wide freedom indexes, society in the tiny Mediterranean island is still influenced by religion.

Since gay unions were approved in 2014, 141 couples have taken advantage of the partnerships, while 22 others who had gotten married outside the country had registered their unions.

Malta, the EU's smallest nation, becomes the bloc's 15th member to legalise same-sex unions.

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.

Gay marriage has also been approved in Canada and the United States, and in four South American countries, though it remains illegal in most of Africa and Asia.

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