International

After A Sharp Debate, Malta Set To Legalize Divorce

Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, right, celebrates the victory of the "yes" camp with yes movement chairman Deborah Schembri in the non-binding referendum to legalise divorce in Malta at a polling station in Valetta in May. i i

Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, right, celebrates the victory of the "yes" camp with yes movement chairman Deborah Schembri in the non-binding referendum to legalise divorce in Malta at a polling station in Valetta in May. Ben Borg Cardona/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Ben Borg Cardona/AFP/Getty Images
Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, right, celebrates the victory of the "yes" camp with yes movement chairman Deborah Schembri in the non-binding referendum to legalise divorce in Malta at a polling station in Valetta in May.

Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, right, celebrates the victory of the "yes" camp with yes movement chairman Deborah Schembri in the non-binding referendum to legalise divorce in Malta at a polling station in Valetta in May.

Ben Borg Cardona/AFP/Getty Images

It was the only European Union member without divorce legislation, but starting in October disenchanted couples will no longer have to leave Malta to get divorced. Today's vote in parliament follows a referendum vote in May in which 53 percent of Maltese voted in favor of legalizing divorce.

The AFP reports that now the Philippines and the mini-states of the Vatican become the only countries in the world to outlaw divorce. The AFP adds:

The Roman Catholic Church, which looms large over the archipelago where 95 percent of the population is Catholic, did not campaign officially in May's non-binding referendum in which 53 percent of voters cast ballots in favour.

However, Valletta's Archbishop Paul Cremona had warned churchgoers in a letter they faced a choice between building and destroying family values. In addition, priests reportedly threatened to refuse communion to those who voted "yes".

Legal separation is widespread in Malta but marriages currently can only be annulled by the Catholic Church's Ecclesiastical Tribunal in a complex and rare procedure that takes around eight years.

The AP reports the new legislation passed with an overwhelming majority of 52 to 11. But it didn't come without sharp debate. The country's prime minister voted against it, saying the law would "weaken the family structure in Malta."

The law goes into effect in October, after the president's expected signature.

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