The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) has expressed disappointment at a bill to regulate cohabiting couples, which has just been launched in the country.

The MGRM say the law has failed to accede to their demands.

Speaking to Malta Today, the MGRM said: “It is hugely disappointing that the [co-habitation] bill proposed does not accede to most of MGRM’s demands and fails to attain even the minimal level of recognition acceptable, that is civil unions at a par with marriage.”

Malta’s Justice Minister Chris Said launched a consultation process over Malta’s first act to regulate co-habiting partners, which is expected to be debated in parliament in October.

That bill will not provide an alternative to marriage, but safeguard the right of co-habiting partners.

The recognition of same-sex partnerships is Malta’s first act that gives lesbian and gay couples standard recognition in terms of rights.

MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja said that at the moment, the bill acknowledges only those who enter into a cohabitation agreement as next of kin, but these couples are excluded from the government’s definition of family.

“For those same-sex headed households which also include children, the role and contribution of the non-biological parent is only recognised if and when the biological parent dies – to the detriment of the children concerned,” Ms Calleja said.

She added that same-sex couples who are both registered on the child’s birth certificate as parents in other countries would not be allowed to register their child in Malta in a similar manner, should they wish to move there.

“In effect, the child will lose a legal parent on moving to Malta. This is unacceptable and considered to be an infringement of the child’s rights as well as a breach of the freedom of movement directive where EU citizens are concerned.”

Ms Calleja said the bill also serves to strengthen homophobia. She said: “We call on the government to take a leadership role in this matter and ensure that all citizens have access to equal recognition before the law rather than allow for the prejudice and homophobia of some sectors of society from presenting a more just law.”

In June, however, the Maltese parliament has extended its hate crime laws for the first time to protect citizens on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The amendment to the hate crime laws, which until now made motives based only on religion, race and disability an aggravating factor in a criminal incident, came after a pair of attacks on lesbian women.