Presidential hostages?

I had been wondering for a while what on earth parliament is waiting for before it finalises the Civil Unions Bill. Now I have my answer – apparently President George Abela refuses to sign it, so we need to wait for the current presidential term to come to an end before we can take a small step towards improving the rights situation in Malta.

I call this a small step for the simple reason that there is still a lot to be done in terms of eradicating discrimination, and this applies across the board, not only with respect to same sex couples.

The current President has indicated he will refuse to sign the Civil Unions Bill on ‘moral grounds’. Thankfully, in this case this presidential hiccough is a moot point. In some weeks’ time we will have a new President who has already declared she will have no problem signing the said bill.

But is it really a moot point? The question begs itself. What would have happened had there been six months or more left before the end of the presidential term?

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Would the bill have been held hostage, or would the President have taken the only morally acceptable route?

One of the first things that is drummed into students at law school is precisely the fact that the President has a constitutional duty to sign all bills that are presented to him by Parliament. I believe that the Constitution actually uses the words “without delay”.

A President accepts the role with full knowledge of said responsibilities and is fully aware that s/he has no power to veto legislation. Moral reservations regarding this aspect need to be addressed before the role is accepted – once it is accepted, the President is expected to put his personal opinion aside in all matters of state. The role is there to serve the country, and not to further the individual’s personal beliefs.

Choosing to act in a way that goes contrary to the spirit of the role is indeed morally unacceptable.