Sunday 11 December 2016

Malta votes for divorce after divisive referendum

Fiona Govan in Valletta

Published 30/05/2011 | 05:00

Malta has voted in favour of legalising divorce in a referendum that has driven a rift through the largely Catholic Mediterranean island nation.

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Just over half (54pc) of voters in the weekend poll backed a call to allow couples to divorce after four years of separation.

Lawrence Gonzi, Malta's prime minister, who campaigned for a 'No' vote, said: "The referendum outcome is not the one I wished for, but the will of the majority will be respected and parliament will enact legislation for the introduction of divorce."

Malta, a former British colony that won independence in 1964, was left as the last European country to forbid divorce when Ireland reformed its marriage law in 1995. It is one of two countries, with the Philippines, where divorce is still banned. Chile legalised divorce in 2004.

In Malta, where 95pc of the 400,000 inhabitants claim to be Catholic and more than half attend Mass every week, the issue of divorce has been raging for decades and the vote was seen as a challenge to church authority.

The Catholic Church had not campaigned openly in the run-up to the plebiscite but Malta's Catholic authorities sent a clear message and a thinly veiled threat of excommunication.

Churchgoers were warned in a letter from the Archbishop of Malta Paul Cremona that they faced a choice between "building and destroying family values".

Reformers argued that with 30pc of marriages failing, the ban on divorce was causing suffering by preventing separated couples from marrying new partners. Nearly one-third of children are born out of wedlock on the island.

The referendum, in which 72pc of those eligible cast their vote, was non-binding but the government promised to change the law. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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