While Tunisia and Egypt, our not so far away Mediterranean neighbours, are in turmoil over issues of civil liberties, democracy and corruption, Malta turns inwards to its own hot issues of the day; and on top of the list is divorce. We’ve seen gaffs from politicians (divorce is inevitably a political issue in Malta); and we’ve seen the increasingly fervent ‘Yes to Divorce‘ and No to Divorce movements snipe at each other.
That it should be a topic of discussion at all, let alone one to divide a nation, create buzz on the airwaves and online, seems bizarre when the rest of the world has divorce laws, bar one country – the Philippines.
It’s not our purpose here to debate the pro and anti movements’ arguments. There are plenty of places to read those online. But, we do have an opinion on the introduction of a divorce law; it would be disingenuous of us not to, although one mainstream media outlet is ensuring its editorial remains bland on the issue.
Divorce is not most people’s desired state of affairs and certainly not on wedding day wish lists unless the couple is getting a marriage of convenience. While few of us can say we’re pro divorce, we should be saying we’re pro having a divorce law. After all, what matter is it to us that a couple down the street needs a divorce? States generally promote the concept of marriage and the family unit as desirable, but do not prevent divorce. The two can sit side by side.
With divorce on the statute books, we rid ourselves of one of the last vestiges of the nanny state, grow up and let those who desire a divorce get closure and move on. The messy issues that lead to divorce exist in Malta, but it is as if without having divorce in name, we can pretend they don’t.
The worry in Malta is that if and when divorce is put to a popular referendum people will vote from personal conviction that they don’t want it in their lives. Great if they don’t. But why should they stop those who need a divorce – the neighbour, the 20 people in the next town – and prevent the country coming of age, and its citizens taking responsibility for their lives once and for all, free from the hegemonic power of church and state intertwined?
Divorce should be on Malta’s statute books whatever our personal opinion, beliefs, wishes, hopes. Here’s some food for thought on why:
1. Malta, a modern European state without divorce – surely an oxymoron?
Take this scenario: a young Maltese man who is anti divorce and not married is offered a superb job overseas, the UK let’s say. He happily leaves Malta having just voted ‘No to Divorce’ to live in a state that has divorce. He doesn’t worry that his new UK neighbours are divorced and he won’t even know if they are, in all likelihood. The lives of the divorced people around him – some are new work colleagues – don’t impinge on how he lives his life or what he personally wants out of his future (marriage). Why should he stop fellow Maltese nationals back in Malta getting divorced? His move has just proved divorce laws don’t harm him or infringe his liberties or suppress his beliefs.
2. Maltese and foreign citizens who obtain a divorce in an overseas jurisdiction can have it legally recognised by Maltese law and are free to remarry in Malta. Let’s go as far as to say certain Maltese will always manage to get a divorce, if they have the means. This is an inequity.
3. Annulments are granted by both Church and State, for a defined list of reasons, even if couples have children. This is divorce by another name, for the few, for the ingenious perhaps; and it exposes some parties to humiliation.
4. Legal Separation is a fudged and often distressing state of affairs that leaves the parties unable to remarry and in a perpetual state of limbo. A better scenario than divorce?
Nations can never be homogenous in beliefs. Let’s stop pretending Malta is. Not all Maltese are Catholic or adhere to catholic values, nor are church goers, nor anti divorce.
Malta needs to get divorce on its statute books, move on and turn itself to more important issues.
Photo: Troy B. Thompson