Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat this week said that the time has come for a national debate on whether to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

The Labour government has introduced legislation that would recognize gay couples with civil unions.

According to Malta Today, Muscat responded “why not?” when asked about the issue of marriage during a luncheon he was addressing.

“Although some people might think that the public isn't ready for gay marriage, I think that the country requires leadership,” Muscat said. “We must continuously keep looking forward.”

Simon Busuttil, who heads the Nationalist Party, called the move from civil unions to marriage “a non-issue” since “the civil unions legislation already gives [gay] couples the same rights and duties as those invoked by civil marriages.”

Gabi Calleja, coordinator of the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM), called on parliamentarians to put forward a marriage bill “without delay.”

“Given that there seems to be consensus on the issue, MGRM urges for a bill to be put forward opening up marriage to all couples irrespective of gender without delay,” Calleja said.