Legislation in favour of divorce already exists in Malta. No one has complained about it throughout the 36 years of its existence. A yes vote on May 28 will be a vote in favour of extending its applicability.
The 1975 Marriage Act had introduced divorce in Malta through the back door by recognising divorce decrees granted in foreign jurisdictions.
Since then, 785 persons (presumably Maltese), have made use of this right, having their marriage dissolved in various foreign countries.
This was subsequently recognised in Malta through the registration of their divorce in the Public Registry.
Of these divorce decrees, 422 were issued in the UK and 112 were issued in Australia as was indicated in a recent reply to a parliamentary question.
Divorce is a civil right that is not yet fully recognised in Malta. It is only partially recognised. Only those who have been domiciled abroad or those who have access to foreign jurisdictions (while resident in Malta) have access to this civil right.
It is as yet forbidden territory to the rest. A yes vote on May 28 will render divorce a civil right accessible to all Maltese and not just to a select few.
Divorce is an issue of political controversy even though it has been avoided by the parliamentary parties. They avoided it until such time that they could not ignore the Private Member’s Bill presented by Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Labour MP Evarist Bartolo. These MPs took a leaf out of the Greens’ electoral manifesto which, since 1989 (when Alternattiva Demokratika was founded), has identified divorce as an attainable political objective.
In Malta, those insisting that divorce is not a political issue do so to justify the position adopted by either of the two parliamentary parties. Both the PN and the PL want to distance themselves from the divorce referendum in order to be able to immunise themselves from the political fallout of the referendum result. Both fear the impact of the result (and the campaign leading to it) on the cohesion of their political base, irrespective of whether the yes or the no wins.
It is time to stand up and be counted.
One cannot run with the hares and simultaneously hunt with the hounds. The PN is aware its no stance makes it difficult to retain the support of those among its ranks who favour divorce. Likewise, Labour is aware that some of its supporters still seek the guidance of the parish priest in resolving their dilemmas. References to fire and brimstone and eternal damnation could obviously be intended to help the PL and its supporters make up their mind!
These are considerations which are factored into the mathematics of divorce politics. This leads to the reason for shifting the decision on divorce away from its appropriate forum in Parliament onto the electorate’s lap. None of the parliamentary parties wants to be lumped with political responsibility for introducing divorce as both fear electoral retribution, which, even if marginal, could be a determining factor in the forthcoming polls.
The PN and the PL have successfully avoided mentioning divorce in all their electoral manifestos but then they proceeded to use this same avoidance in order to justify Parliament’s inability to act. While this is a disservice to the community, obviously, Malta has the MPs it deserves.
After 22 years AD is still the only political party in Malta which supports divorce legislation. The PN, true to its conservative pedigree, is unsurprisingly against while “progressive” Labour has no official position although, as a consolation prize, we have been informed its leader is “personally” in favour.
The parliamentary debate on the referendum has also spotlighted another interesting matter.
The utterances of a number of MPs are in stark contrast to the manner they speak and act in private. Well, they are very careful in order not to prejudice what’s left of their political career. It is clear that consistency is a value that is not appreciated in the House.
As matters stand, the state in Malta decided way back in 1975 that divorce is to be available only to those who have access to foreign jurisdictions. In respect of all others, the Maltese state decided there should be no access to divorce. A yes vote on May 28 will remove the Maltese state from the equation and will grant the opportunity to each and every individual to take his/her own decisions in the light of his/her beliefs and values.
The position of those who do not accept divorce is protected as no one will ram divorce down their throats. But they will also be in such a position that they will no longer be able to impose “their values” on others.
(published on Saturday, April 30, 2011)