You Can Marry in Malta, But You Can't Divorce

Malta is a small island country just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean, notable for its strategic location and its colourful history of Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Sicilian, Knights of St. John, French and British rule. Only in 1964 did Malta gain its independence and create its constitution, a document seeped in Catholicism that strictly forbids its citizens to divorce. At that time a divorce ban was not controversial since Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland also disallowed divorce. However, each of those countries gradually changed their laws and legalized divorce. But not Malta. The Maltese go to the polls today to vote on a referendum to determine whether divorce should finally be lawful in Malta. With a population of about 400,000, 98% of Maltese are Catholic and one-half of the population attends mass regularly. Not surprisingly, the church plays a central role in the question of legalizing divorce and has waged a "No" campaign, hoping to use its considerable influence to defeat the referendum. Proponents of legalization say the Catholic Church's position is self-serving, since in the absence of divorce, only the church can offer a solution which is an annulment, a process run by the church and historically a money-maker. They also cite the hypocrisy of church leaders who enjoy both wives and mistresses and thus have no need to obtain a divorce. It is reported that 30% of Malta's children are borne out-of-wedlock because their parents are not free to marry. Several Ministers of Parliament have referred to the church as "spiritual terrorists" in their zeal to prevent the implementation of a divorce bill which would still require a period of separation of four years, before a divorce could be granted. Most countries need only a one-year separation before a couple are qualified to get a divorce. Whether the Maltese will move into the 21st century or stay true to the tenets of the Catholic church will be determined by the referendum. If the vote is "yes", the last bastion of "let no man put asunder" will be the Philippines, another largely Catholic country. Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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