A bill to introduce civil unions for gay couples in Malta will arrive in the country’s Parliament this week.

Malta’s Equality Minister Helena Dalli told a press conference on Monday that the Civil Unions Bill will recognise same-sex partnerships and give them the same rights and duties as married heterosexual couples.

“We are people before we are straight, gay, black, white or red,” she said.

“We have to move towards a society that shuns discrimination and everyone enjoys rights to live a happy life.”

Neil Falzon, a human rights lawyer, involved in the drafting of the bill said the law was very simple.

“This is a very important step for the LGBTI community and a first step towards total equality in marriage.”

LGBT campaigners have welcomed the move but stress the end goal remains full marriage equality on the island.

The Parliament will also debate a private members’ bill outlawing homophobic discrimination on Wednesday.

In June, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that gay couples should be able to enter civil unions by the end of 2013.