Malta lawmakers make divorce legal

Malta divorce.jpg

In an historic vote, Maltese MPs passed legislation to legalise divorce this week (25 July), after a small majority voted in a May referendum to change the law.

The law was passed with 52 members in favour and 11 against amid five abstentions. Back in May, Maltese citizens backed the change despite the opposition of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and his Nationalist Party.

Apart from a brief period when the island fell under Napoleon's rule for some two years, divorce has never legally existed there.

Malta is the only EU country to have banned divorce.

Previously Maltese citizens could only obtain divorce abroad. In the last 30 years, 785 couples divorced this way, with numbers gradually rising from seven in 1981 to 47 in 2010.

"The amendments to the original Divorce Bill had improved the law but this does not mean I'm happy with it," Gonzi told reporters after the vote, in which he allowed MPS to vote according to their conscience.

He added that he would feel "uncomfortable" about the introduction of divorce in a country where 95% of the population is Catholic.

Valletta's Archbishop Paul Cremona had warned churchgoers in a letter that they faced a choice between building and destroying family values.

In addition, priests reportedly threatened to refuse communion to those who voted 'yes'. Abortion is still banned in Malta.

Malta participates in the EU's cross-border divorce agreement.

Last year, fourteen EU member states used a pioneering cooperation mechanism to press ahead with plans to simplify divorce rules for couples of different nationalities.

European Union governments gave the 14 states the go-ahead on Monday, a moment described as "historic" by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.

Couples in these countries will be able to choose which country's law applies to their divorce, helping them to avoid potentially long and expensive proceedings.

The countries are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.

After the rules were approved, the Maltese government said that despite its position against divorce, the island wanted to take part in the new mechanism as "it feels its interests will be better represented inside the mechanism than outside".

Malta can now be involved in all future negotiations on the directive.


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