On Saturday, the Maltese people go to the ballot box to decide whether or not their country should make divorce legal.
Malta and the Philippines are the only two countries left in the world where divorce remains unavailable, with the exception of Vatican City. Marriage laws have been a politically contentious issue in the island nation for decades. While it is currently not possible for Maltese courts to dissolve a marriage, divorces obtained by citizens overseas are legally recognised, which is not the case in the Philippines. Those unable to seek a divorce elsewhere have two alternatives. Legal separation enables the division of shared property but partners cannot remarry. Annulment allows for this possibility but then the couple’s own marriage is considered to have never existed. They need to show that it was invalid from the start.
On Sunday, Malta Labour party MP Adrian Vassallo announced that he will be standing down over plans to allow couples to divorce.
Let me explain. It may surprise some of you to learn that in Malta, a member of the Commonwealth and an EU state, divorce is still illegal. And this isn’t one of those outdated laws that they somehow never got around to changing, like cab drivers not being able to pick up people infected with plague. Malta was a British colony until 1964, and though divorce has been allowed for an elite few in British law for centuries, and for all citizens since 1857, banning divorce is something the Maltese people chose to do during the 1960s, by omitting it from their new constitution entirely. In the deeply Catholic nations of the Mediterranean this was relatively common at the time. Divorce was still illegal in countries like Italy, Portugal and Spain, and even in the Republic of Ireland. But these places all legalised divorce in the period between 1971 and 1994. Somehow Malta has found itself one of only two countries left in the world where divorce is still illegal, along with the Philippines.