Malta's lawmakers vote to legalize same-sex marriage

Malta's parliament passed the Marriage Equality Act on Wednesday, paving the way for same-sex couples to marry.

Story highlights

  • Malta is the latest European nation to pass a marriage equality bill
  • Social attitudes in the Catholic-majority country have been shifting for years

(CNN)Lawmakers passed a measure Wednesday to make Malta the latest European country to legalize same-sex marriage.

Parliamentarians voted 66-1 in favor of a marriage equality bill, marking a major step for LGBTI rights in the predominantly Catholic country.
    Nationalist party MP Edwin Vassallo was the only lawmaker to oppose the vote, citing his Christian faith. The marriage equality measure had been expected to pass after MPs voted in its favor last week.
    On Wednesday night, a government-sponsored celebration was organized with Malta's LGBTIQ Consultative Council -- a government body representing the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning organisations -- in front of the capital's historic Auberge de Castille.
    There, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, a vocal proponent of marriage equality, celebrated the results, posting a photo from Valletta's Pjazza Kastilja, which was lit up in the colors of the rainbow flag and the phrase "We Made History."
    Malta's Government wrote on Twitter, "#MarriageEquality is now reality in #Malta. Pledge fulfilled, future sealed."
    The 43-year-old Prime Minister had promised to make the marriage equality bill one his priorities after winning a snap election in June.
    Speaking to reporters, Muscat said the historic vote "shows that our democracy, our society ... has reached an unprecedented level of maturity and a society where we can all say we are equal."
    As part of the approved measure, the language used in Malta's civil ceremonies is expected to become gender neutral, dropping the language "husband and wife."
    The tiny island nation has been riding a wave of social reforms since a 2011 referendum to legalize divorce. Since then, the country has introduced civil unions and last year became the first European state to ban "gay cure" therapy.
    Evelyne Paradis, executive director of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Europe applauded the vote, calling it "the icing on the cake of the tremendous work by the Maltese LGBTI movement," in a statement on Wednesday.
    Paradis also referenced Malta's historic conservatism, and encouraged the government to continue to push further social reforms.
    "Now the government must tackle a new project -- ensuring full social acceptance. We know that there are some parts of society who opposed this bill, who had doubts. It is up to the government to continue to show leadership, together with the LGBTI movement, and really embed this legal change in society. The talking is finished inside parliament, but the work must continue outside its doors," Paradis said.
    Malta joins at least 14 other European nations that have legalized same-sex marriage.
    Last month, Germany voted to legalize same-sex marriage without the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
    The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. Since, more than 20 other nations have followed suit, including Spain, Canada, Argentina, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland and the United States.