Catholicism is Malta’s state religion with 84 percent of the population being Catholic. Though atheism spreads exponentially, religion is a compulsory subject in school and abortion is illegal. In fact, blasphemy only ceased to be a criminal offence in 2016.

Still, LGBT people enjoy equal constitutional rights, and can marry and adopt children. In fact, LGBT rights have ranked first in Europe since 2015 and Malta was Europe’s first country to ban gay conversion therapy.

There are two explanations for this paradox:

Malta only introduced divorce in 2011 through a referendum. This was late, but the Maltese made the change against what the church wanted and without the support of politics. The first explanation claims this opened a lock. While the two big parties (the Nationalist and the Labour Party) had refrained from liberal reforms before because they were afraid to lose votes, the Labour Party – which came into power in 2013 – now realised that the reforms were popular with the people.

The second explanation is more suspicious about the positive headlines these reforms created and claims they are intended to distract from the scandals under the Labour Party’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. According to investigations linked to the Panama papers, the Prime Minister and two of his confidants are accused of using offshore companies to make money by selling Maltese passports and accepting bribes from Azerbaijan. Strangely, Muscat’s government is in no rush to wipe that slate clean but happily promotes LGBT rights.