Malta finally allows divorce following vote

AP News
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Posted: Jul 25, 2011 10:45 AM
Malta finally allows divorce following vote

Maltese will no longer have to travel abroad to divorce, following Monday's overwhelming vote in favor of finally allowing couples to end their marriages at home on the heavily Catholic island nation.

Prior to the vote, Malta was the only European Union nation without divorce legislation. The law takes effect in October, after Malta's president is expected to sign it.

Parliament acted Monday after nearly 53 percent of voters said "yes" to divorce in a referendum on 28 May. The vote was a blow to the ruling Nationalist Party, which had opposed divorce ahead of the referendum.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was one of the few who voted against the bill, believing divorce legislation will weaken the family structure. Gonzi had also voted "no" in an earlier vote July 13, which led to the opposition Labour Party to call for his resignation on the grounds he was not respecting the people's will.

He said Monday that amendments had improved the legislation, but he was still "uncomfortable" with the bill, and so had voted against it.

Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat described the prime minister's vote as "inexplicable," saying he had once again ignored how the people voted in the referendum.

Up to now, Maltese citizens could only obtain divorce abroad. In the last 30 years, 785 Maltese couples divorced this way, with numbers gradually rising from seven in 1981 to 47 in 2010.

The bill was passed with 52 votes in favor, 11 against and five abstentions, while one MP was absent, a crushing result considering that most laws in Malta are passed by just one vote. Nineteen Nationalist MPs approved the legislation, going against their party's official stand.