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Maltese voters go to polls on legalising divorce

400,000 voters – the majority of them Catholic – will choose whether to allow divorce after four years of separation.

Prime minister Lawrence Gonzi opposes the referendum to introduce divorce, but did not have the parliamentary support to vote it down.
Prime minister Lawrence Gonzi opposes the referendum to introduce divorce, but did not have the parliamentary support to vote it down.
Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

THE MAINLY CATHOLIC island of Malta is today going to the polls to decide whether parliament should pass a new law allowing divorce in the country for the first time.

The referendum, if passed, would allow couples who have been separated for more than four years to seek a legal divorce – though parties to such a marriage will not be allowed to remarry in the church.

The proposal was introduced to parliament by Jeffrey Orlando, a backbencher from the governing centre-right Nationalist Party, in a surprise move – but prime minister Lawrence Gonzi, whose government has a majority of just one, did not have the backing to overrule the measure.

As a result, al-Jazeera reports that Gonzi ultimately opted to put the measure to the public to seek its guidance and judgement on whether divorce – which is fundamentally opposed by Catholicism – should be permitted.

The proposal has the backing of the opposition leadership, with the leader of the opposition pledging to back the move even if he was “the last man standing” – though just as with the government, not all MPs are agreed.

The ultimate model of the proposal is based on the model ultimately approved by Irish voters in November 1996. Ireland’s referendum allowed divorce in cases where couples have been separated for five years.

Reuters reports that Malta is currently the only European country that does not allow divorce.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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