In reply to our politicians' cant

Published: July 12, 2010 at 12:14am

1. It is parliament which enacts laws, and not political parties or the government. Parliament legislates. That’s why it is known as the legislature. But most of us remain completely unaware that ‘legislature’ means parliament itself and think instead that it means a government’s term of office. The current divorce debate more than amply illustrates that we don’t even understand what a parliamentary democracy is when we talk about it.

2. The leaders of both political parties are now taking advantage of this widespread ignorance to promote the idea that they are not responsible for taking decisions and legislating. The leader of the opposition told us that he will wait until he is prime minister to bring before the house a private member’s bill on divorce, and was made to look a fool by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. And now the prime minister has seen fit to go one better and tell us that he must refer the matter of divorce back to the electorate.

2. If there is a majority in parliament for a piece of legislation – in other words, if the majority of members of parliament, and parties do not come into it, are for divorce legislation – then it is only fit and proper that this majority passes such legislation as it deems necessary, whether or not it was in either party’s electoral programme. The country’s constitution does not recognise political parties. How much less, then, does it recognise the electoral programmes of those political parties. Party electoral programmes have no force of law. A political party need not have a manifesto at all. Tough, but true.

3. In Malta’s constitutional system, MPs are not electors’ delegates like the presidential convention delegates in the United States. That is why they are not called delegates. They do not vote as we instruct them to vote. They are our representatives, not our delegates, which means that they are there to take decisions on our behalf, with or without consulting us, once we have elected them to do so. The basic premise in our representative system is that we elect those whose judgement we trust, and that we then leave them to get on with it. The Maltese parliament is the country’s ONLY legislative body. It does not only have the right but also the duty to legislate on matters that it deems necessary, whether or not these were mentioned in an electoral programme.

4. All talk about whether the government has a mandate to legislate for divorce is nonsensical and shows scant knowledge of the constitution and of Malta’s parliamentary democracy. The legislative body is NOT the government. The government does not and cannot legislate. This power is vested solely in parliament. The question, then, should be ‘Does parliament – and not the government – have a mandate to legislate for divorce?’ Or, more to the point, that question should be: ‘Does parliament have a mandate NOT to legislate for divorce?’

5. If both the political parties in parliament had declared in their 2008 manifesto that they would NOT introduce divorce legislation, then there certainly is a good political argument that neither party should bring such a bill before parliament. But both parties were silent on the issue of divorce and if someone had not forced it as Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando did, they will stay silent or use evasive tactics for as long as the electorate permits them to do so. They will do their level best to maintain the silence even now. Labour has already tied its flag to the mast of further silence, three years before the day: the party has said that it will not pledge divorce legislation in its 2013 electoral programme and will instead leave it up to Muscat to present a private member’s bill while prime minister, however silly this might be in our Westminster model.

6. In short, no political party or MP is hindered politically or legally from introducing divorce legislation, though many of them are now clutching at their consciences like drowning men at straws.

7. The governing party has more of a mandate to introduce divorce than it had to remove the subsidies on bread, kerosene, water, electricity and gas – none of which were promised in an electoral manifesto.

8. In our system, parliament can and should legislate where necessary. After it does so – this is an important point as the actual legislation, and not just the bill or the suggestion of it, must come first – there are two types of laws which are null and void: a) those declared by the Constitutional Court to be inconsistent with the Maltese Constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights; and b) those that are the subject of a majority Yes vote in an abrogative referendum (a referendum to have a law repealed). A petition to call an abrogative referendum must be signed by 10% of the electorate, and no less than half the electorate must vote in that referendum.

9. Parliament exists for one purpose only: to legislate as it deems fit for the good government of the country. That legislation then stands until it is changed or repealed by a subsequent law enacted by the same parliament or one which comes afterwards.

10. I would argue that parliament has even more of a mandate to legislate for divorce because the electorate has the right to force an abrogative referendum. Those MPs who argue that they do not have a mandate to legislate for divorce can soothe their aching consciences by reminding themselves that if just 10% of the electorate demands an abrogative referendum, then the Electoral Commission is obliged to hold one. The Catholic Church is more than able to collect 31,000 signatures in three hours on a Sunday morning.

11. Eddie Fenech Adami, in comments published in The Sunday Times today, said that the president should not sign a divorce bill if there is no popular mandate. Fenech Adami, together with Guido de Marco and Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, in 1974 led a substantial faction of Nationalist MPs to vote in parliament for the Constitutional amendments introduced by Dom Mintoff. The 21 Nationalist MPs who voted for those amendments certainly did not have a mandate. They also voted to REMOVE the referendum required to amend the most important parts of the Constitution. They did this through a legal ploy by removing the supremacy of the Constitution for two days because of a loophole. And now they talk about a popular mandate.

12. Of course, the correct argument then and now is that in politics one must react to the needs of the time. Ideally, one should preempt them, but with divorce, it’s too late to talk about preemption. In 1974, despite not having an electoral mandate, Nationalist MPs, led by Fenech Adami, de Marco and Mifsud Bonnici, arrived at a consensus with Dom Mintoff that gave us a settled Constitution for the first time ever, one could argue, in our political history. The same argument applies now: the right of married people to terminate their contract of marriage should be accepted as a right and not as the subject of some kind of mandate from others.

39 Comments Comment

  1. Leonard says:

    JPO for Adrian Vassallo and 50,000 euros. Transfer deadline day is 31 August.

  2. ciccio2010 says:

    Although I declare respect for the “Presidenti emeriti”, I think they should not compromise the office of the President with their declarations in public. Why should a “President emeritus” tell a President in office how he should act in specific circumstances, via The Times?

    I think that the no comment from the president was this time appropriate. And I expected the “Presidenti emeriti” to do the same. Any advisory role should be in private.

    If I were the Prime Minister, I would go back to the Flimkien Kollox Possibli drawing board, sit down with the Opposition (via a House Committee or whatever they call it), and design together a divorce bill to suit the needs of Malta.

    This will remove all political controversy on a subject which affects the dearest sentiments of many adults and especially children in the Maltese society. In my view, this would also present a stronger position for the State in any debate with the Church.

    • Pat I says:

      While thinking that Fenech Adami is wrong in what he is proposing, I can’t see why he shouldn’t propose it, if that is what he thinks. The Times is not a political outlet and Fenech Adami was a very prominent and respected politician.

      I think his advice – again, I state, even though it might be wrong – is still valuable to many people.

      What is more upsetting than the absence of divorce legislation is the availability of divorce to the few through another jurisdiction, which is then recognised in Malta. And then there is annulment in the law courts and church tribunal.

      I am Swedish, married to a Maltese. I could divorce my wife if I wanted to, by referring the matter to Sweden. But my wife can’t divorce me, because she is Maltese.

      I think we are clearly not all equal before the law.

      • ciccio2010 says:

        @ Pat I:
        Dr. Fenech Adami is reported as having said, too, “that the President should also think twice before giving his assent to a divorce law unless there was a popular mandate.”

        This might be seen as influencing the current president, and I think it was wrong to make that kind of statement.

        Once a person leaves politics, then that person should leave for good. When former politicians continue to make public appearances, this is often to the embarrassment of someone else currently holding some post.

  3. A. Charles says:

    This article should be compulsory reading for the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all our representatives in Parliament.

    • Pat Zahra says:

      It should be compulsory reading for everyone. Perhaps there may come a day when our politicians show a little more respect to our intelligence. Just now, most of us deserve everything that’s coming to us.

  4. Edward Clemmer says:

    If Malta were today’s Greece in a monumental financial crisis, the required legislative action for dealing with the crisis would not be restricted to the specific details of a party manifesto. No political party would get elected if it put the necessary legislative medicine in its manifesto.

    The logic is entirely absurd, as many are wont to think, that legislation for anything is barred by its absence in the manifesto. If Rome is burning, you put out the fire; and the situation in Malta without divorce is quite a fire, even if only 5, 10, 20 percent of Malta is burning, and another 30 percent of marriages may be smoldering.

    If the more theocratic members of parliament are having true qualms of conscience over introducing divorce [they are more likely concerned about the theocracy and lack of critical thinking skills of some significant portion of their voting constituents], then I would recommend Sunday’s gospel regarding the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

    Who was neighbor to the one who fell in with the robbers? (Couples constrained by the absence of divorce in their broken marriages are quite literally “beaten up.”) The opinion of the Lord’s interlocutor was, “The one who treated him with compassion.” Jesus said to him, “Then go and do the same.”

    Compassion and justice demands the introduction of divorce in Malta, and not under the “conditions” that couples first be separated and living apart for a number of years. For some couples, women with children in particular (with the very low rate of participation of women in the workforce in Malta) may have no financial means to live apart (a matter to be settled ultimately under a divorce decree).

    Stonewalling properly thought-through legislation for divorce is no longer a societal or parliamentary option for Malta in 2010. Christian and humanitarian compassion demands it.

    • CaMiCasi says:

      “If the more theocratic members of parliament are having true qualms of conscience over introducing divorce … then I would recommend Sunday’s gospel…”

      No. They simply need reminding that their own personal religious beliefs and religiously-influenced conscience should have bugger all to do with their decision. They don’t represent themselves. More importantly, their role in this instance isn’t to (claim to) second guess what they think their constituents want and act accordingly.

      Their role is to update Maltese legislation to reflect basic, commonly upheld democratic and civil rights and duties.

  5. Anthony Farrugia says:

    I have an inkling that Pullicino Orlando’s Private Member’s Bill will remain mired and will not make it to Parliament before the 2013 elections.

    Have the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition considered that there could be an electoral back-lash on their dilly-dallying tactics? They should keep in mind that in 2008 the difference in votes between the two parties was minimal.

  6. Anthony Farrugia says:

    So the three ex-presidents were among the 21 PN MPs who did not care a hoot for what the party leader (George Borg Olivier) thought about the amendments and also paved the way to oust him from the party leadership in 1977.

    “Ex-Presidents believe post requires cautious approach. “(The Sunday Times)

    So what it boils down to is that the three ex-presidents’ attitude is: See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, insomma do nothing.

    What a different attitude and approach to what they did in 1974.

    If the three ex-presidents feel the post requires a cautious approach, what are they doing commenting in The Sunday Times? Is this a contradiction or not?

  7. Jo says:

    An excellent article, Daphne. As A. Charles wrote, all MPs (and ex MPs) should read it carefully. I will print some copies to distribute.

  8. Hypatia says:

    Once again, an excellent, analytical, rational, factual, no-frills article with which I agree in toto. Only one small slightly inaccurate detail: the one relating to the constitutional recognition of political parties.

    Originally, the Constitution did not recognize political parties but this changed with the 1987 amendments (article 51 guaranteeing a majority of seats to the political party obtaining a majority of votes). The principle that MPs vote individually remains unchanged and Daphne’s arguments continue to apply. Irrespective of the Whip’s lash, an MP may vote as s/he thinks fit and the responsibility for her/his vote remains hers or his alone.

    It is fiction to state that a law cannot be enacted unless there is a mandate. As Daphne states, electoral manifestos are not mandatory.

    An MP has a mandate to enact laws and not specific laws. It is the same for political parties. Otherwise, the majority political party that fails to enact a law which it had promised in its electoral manifesto, or at least to try and enact it, would lose its legitimacy to govern.

    It would be contrary to democratic principles to bind the hands of Parliament from enacting laws just because the intention had not been announced prior to the elections.

    Parliament may enact any law (provided it is not unconstitutional) at any time. The Maltese Parliament may enact at any time a law that nobody may smoke in their own bathroom even if it will be difficult to enforce. It is either persons not versed in constitutional law or those who prefer to be economical with the truth who insist on mandates. Or, perhaps, those wishing to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible.

    As for the Head of State signing bills passed by the House of Representatives, the President has no alternative but to assent to bills passed by the House or resign and, in that case, Presidents will have to be elected in succession by the House until one is elected who will assent the bill passed by the House into law.

    In fact, by refusing to assent, a President will only satisfy his own conscience and delay, but not prevent, the law from coming into effect.

  9. Raphael says:

    All very well said, but the question remains: what the devil do we do now? Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s bill will not come up for a vote before the next election, and for that we now have Gonzi’s word.

    The prime minister (together with 80% of The Times’ readership) still believes a referendum is the way to go about it, despite the undeniable fact that it is very plainly undemocratic.

    Joseph Muscat has stupidly committed himself to giving his party a free vote, when we all know that Labour is ultimately more conservative than even the PN. And the Archbishop has preemptively poisoned the entire debate by bullying Catholic MPs (i.e., practically 100% of the House) into voting against.

    Whichever way you look at it, it appears to be a lost cause. Any bright ideas, anyone? Anyone at all…?

    • Stefan Vella says:

      It seems like the proverbial ostriches have dug their heads deep in the sand. I agree totally that a referendum is undemocratic and smacks of political immaturity.

      On the other hand, I do not realistically expect Gonzi to call a referendum or to even put divorce on the PN’s future electoral manifesto.

      Whoever is elected three years from now will either claim, incorrectly I might add, that the nation did not want divorce (PN) or are happy with a free vote (LP), effectively condemning us to the backwoods of civilisation in this area.

      In the meantime we can wait for some enterprising individuals to adapt the Italian film, Divorzio all’Italiana, to our situation. Pity we do not have a Mastroianni amongst us.

      Scratch that, even if we had, it would probably be censored/banned by some judge concerned with protecting the morals of people who are old enough to vote.

  10. Pat Zahra says:

    You have said in the past that if Joseph Muscat called for a vote on divorce, as Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando has just done, the attempt would fail.

    You predicted that the Members of Parliament would feel pressured to oppose the introduction of divorce because they feared the disapproval of their families and supporters.

    If the 69 votes in parliament might be thus shackled, then is a referendum not called for?

    [Daphne – No. Nobody except members of parliament should vote on civil rights, and they should vote FOR. It’s bad enough that we are still talking of voting on a basic civil right in 2010. Think of a similar situation: should the government have put its ‘Equal Partners in Marriage’ bill to the popular vote in a referendum? Of course not. The very idea is shocking: asking people to choose whether women should remain subjugated to their husbands. The same applies to divorce.]

    On a separate but related theme: if one had to consider Pullicino Orlando’s move in terms of chess, by putting divorce to the vote he may appear to have snitched Joseph’s Good Idea. However, if divorce fails to get through this time, the MPs will have an opportunity to study people’s reactions, and then, when Joseph Muscat makes his move he may get a very different result. The only unknown factor in this – not known to me that is, is whether once a proposal has been put to the vote and been shot down, it can be put forward a second time.

    [Daphne – Of course it can.]

  11. S K says:

    The problem here is everyone has a very loud opinion but very little of the knowledge or education to carry it off.

    The MPs need to get some balls and get this sorted. No more passing the buck.

    Come on, Malta, please do us proud and show the world you’re no longer in the Stone Age. It’s 2010.

  12. Karl Flores says:

    The political parties lose credibility as they procrastinate on divorce.

  13. Ta Borom says:

    I think former presidents should not compromise the office of the president with their partisan declarations in public.

  14. Rover says:

    In Maltese we have a wonderful saying “tistahba wara subajk” – to hide behind your own finger. It appears to me that this is exactly what our Members of Parliament are doing. They have been caught out and they have scurried along hiding behind their own fingers. How pitiful.

    I have not heard one single argument from the No camp (or should we say the foot-dragging camp) that cannot be summarily shot down.

    One can only come to the conclusion that we have wimps for representatives and we live in hope that some of them might have the gumption to come out and deal with it.

  15. Hypatia says:

    Just listen to this champion of Catholicism who made a film that sent Maltese believers in droves, including priests, to see his sadistic movie The Passion of the Christ:

    I remember watching him being interviewed on EWTN as publicity for his movie (which I consider pornographic) and you’d think he was on his way to being imminently canonized.

    [Daphne – Thank you for bringing that up. When The Passion of the Christ was released in Malta, I wrote that the Catholic Church should classify it H (remember? Hazin), that it should be given an AO rating with a warning (it was given a U), that parents who took their children to watch it should be prosecuted for child abuse, and that it was nothing less than the sadistic porn fantasies of the disturbed Mel Gibson. I received a torrent of abuse. Then Gibson subsequent film – that native American one – turned out to be even more cruel, sadistic and bloody, and you really had to wonder. All that Catholicism, all that right-wing cant, all that breeding seven children and beating his breast – then off he goes, a drunken, lying cheat, divorcing his wife, producing another child with a ‘singer’, beating her up, dumping her….you know, when people are so extreme with their religion, I can’t help thinking they’re trying to suppress their worst instincts.]

  16. John J Cefai says:

    Daphne, congratulations. You published the essential handbook for all current and aspiring local politicians and managed to do it in a mere 12 points.

    Now our politicians do not have to be mediocre any more. And they do not have to play the fools or treat the people as fools any longer. Fools with straight faces, that is.

    Unfortunately, since Independence Malta has been inundated with, at best, mediocre politicians (bar an exception here and there), and at worst – everyone knows.

    Since Independence, Malta has had its countryside raped for the sake of social housing, commercial housing, industrial projects, commercial projects and whatever reason you can think of – addio il-green belts around the towns; its finances pillaged with record-breaking promises of social benefits with the governing parties in a race to out-do each other; and the entrepreneurial classes milked for all they are worth.

    Not to mention the haemorrhaging at para-statal and state-owned companies that have been hailed for so many years. And I am not mentioning corruption here, I would not go there, because no politician has ever been caught being bribed.

    On this subject, at least, no mud can be levelled because our politicians are all good, hand-on-the-heart citizens, unlike those other dirty and greedy European politicians whom we read and hear about occasionally in the foreign media.

    It is just only the foolish citizenry that has a wrong whiff of corruption, but that is just it, a whiff, a whim, a fantasy. And what about the democratic credentials amongst our politicians?

    Yes, a nice, fitting two-party democracy, where political stability is so much cherished. Just forget about the minorities. Minorities have to make do and fit in the system.

    And if there is a strong enough voice among the ‘minority’, our politicians, with hand on heart and the straightest face possible, should throw the issue for the approval of the majority.

    That is the democratic ideal at work! Unfortunately however, our politicians have forgotten that we are in AD2010 Europe as opposed to the democracies of Sparta or Athens of 2000 years ago.

    Anyway, I guess I have made my point(s) and vented enough thoughts provoked by a mere 12-point post. Well done, Daphne.

  17. David says:

    I think you are right legally and constitutionally.

    However, the matter has political and social implications. Divorce radically changes the concept of marriage.

    [Daphne – The Equal Partners in Marriage legislation radically changed the concept of marriage, but no one suggested referring that bill back to the people.]

    Marriage in Malta today is a permanent union till death and is indissoluble (barring annulment). This idea of marriage is also based on the values of Maltese society, also influenced by the Catholic faith.

    [Daphne – WHAT VALUES OF MALTESE SOCIETY? Maltese values – to my observation – are actually pretty poor. Maltese people are anything but principled. Our culture is pragmatic: do what it pays you to do. And that is the governing principle of personal relationships, too.]

    It is clear that the introduction of divorce is a major change in society. This has implications for politicians, especially Catholic politicians. There are surely many persons inside and outside Parliament opposed to divorce, in Malta and elsewhere. In Ireland divorce was approved in a second referendum on the subject by a very slight majority.

    [Daphne – Might I refer you back to another post in which I wrote about the Irish referendum? It wasn’t a referendum for divorce. It was a referendum to remove the constitutional ban on divorce. In Ireland, the constitution can be changed only through a referendum. If there were no constitutional ban on divorce, requiring a referendum to remove it, then the Irish parliament would simply have gone ahead and legislated. Malta has no constitutional ban on divorce and even if we did, we do not need a referendum to amend the constitution. No country has ever had a referendum on divorce. Please let’s not be the world’s only one to do so.]

    I doubt whether divorce is a basic civil right as a right must be based on the good of the individual and the good of society. In this context, is the legalization of adultery a civil right?

    [Daphne – YES. YES. YES. I cannot believe I am hearing this. Are you following the current news from Iran at all? They’re planning to kill a woman for committing adultery. World leaders and human rights groups have reacted very strongly indeed: the state has no business punishing adults for engaging in consensual sex. And no, I’m sorry to have to tell you this but civil rights are concerned with the individual and not with ‘the good of society’. You cannot have a ‘good society’ if individuals within it are suppressed, oppressed, discriminated against, or denied basic rights.]

    The point of the 1973 Republican Constitution is irrelevant as the amendments were legally valid and the vast majority of MPs agreed that Malta should not remain a monarchy and become a republic as the next step in our constitutional development. Therefore I find your criticism of the ex-Presidents uncalled for.

    [Daphne – That’s fine with me.]

    • Macduff says:

      All this babble about “major changes in society” is getting tiring and extremely annoying. Could you list them, please?

  18. Claude Sciberras says:

    I understand that our MPs can enact law as they deem fit but on important issues it is not only ethical but also vital that you make sure you are truly representing the electorate when taking decisions in parliament.

    It is for this reason that political parties publish a manifesto before an election, so that the electorate have a good idea of what they are voting for.

    Now it is true that not many actually read these documents and that the manifestos we had in recent years are not so tangible, but at least you know by and large what the direction is.

    It is unfair and unjust to take decisions and actions that go contrary to what you have said in your manifesto or before an election. The electorate will lose faith and respect for those who say one thing before an election and do another once in government.

    Pullicino Orlando or any other MP who was elected on the PN ticket must toe the line of the PN not his own personal agenda. One might suggest that he IS toeing the PN linea – then in that case the PN should come out and say so – and that he is doing this to pull the carpet from under the Opposition leader’s feet. But to my knowledge the PN and Gonzi are against divorce in principle.

    On the issue of divorce I am against. I’m sure that one day or another we will have to lump it (Daphne – Why will you have to lump it, Claude? Is your wife planning to be first in line to divorce you? If not, then other people’s divorces are really no concern of yours, no more than other people’s domestic arrangements concern you now.] but I am still against and am sure that more wrong will come out of this than good.

    That is my opinion and it is not based only on religion but mainly on the fact that divorce means more broken families and more children facing problems in their development – those of us who have kids know how important a strong family structure is to the development of children.

    [Daphne – Actually, Claude, what is more important to the development of children than a strong family structure is an intelligent mother, and better still is one who is more than a housewife. Those are the children who do best of all in life, but you can’t legislate about that, can you? You can have the most stable family structure in the world, but if your mother has a low IQ and can’t see beyond the tip of her nose, then you’re royally screwed. Intelligent and capable divorced mothers raise children far more successfully than unintelligent, uneducated women who are still married to their mate.]

    All this has a social cost and financial implications which we the taxpayers will end up footing once again. Many would say that the problems are there anyway and that the families are being broken anyway. I am sure that divorce will bring about an increase in the number of broken marriages first of all because young couples will enter marriage with less of a commitment knowing they have an escape clause, and secondly because there will be an “easier” route out of the problems that we all face in each and every marriage.

    The only reason why people want divorce is to remarry. Now the law of numbers states that if you were not good marriage material in the first marriage chances are you are not going to be much better in the second or the third and so on. I’m not saying this is always the case but many will be.

    My solution is to have two forms of marriage. A gold standard type where you enter into an indissoluble marriage, where both parties know and commit themselves to each other for life, and another form which is an agreement of sorts which allows people to live together, inherit etc. but which is not marriage and can be dissolved at any time.

    I know this is far fetched but why ruin something which with all its problems has been around for eons and has worked for so many people. Why do we want to stop believing that people can commit themselves to one another for life, for better and for worse.

    [Daphne – Divorce has been around as long as marriage.]

    Having said all this I do understand that there are quite a few people who, out of no fault of their own, have seen their marriage break and their family separated and suffer because their marriage has broken down. I sympathise.

    However if people believe in for better and for worse then you must accept whatever comes your way. What if your wife is involved in an accident and is vegetating in bed for years?

    Or your husband has lost his will to live and is constantly trying to kill himself? Aren’t these very difficult situations that many married couples need to endure? Of course, we should endure out of love not because we are forced and hence there is separation.

    [Daphne – People don’t divorce their spouses because of problems. They divorce them because they no longer love them. When discussing marital breakdown, it is common in Malta to talk about problems and how they should be surmounted etc etc. Nobody seems to want to discuss the absence of love, or that love, once gone, cannot be recovered. Yet this is the real reason, probably the only reason, that marriages break down. You can live for 50 years with somebody who causes you problems, but you can’t live for 50 years with somebody you don’t love.]

    What are the advantages of having divorce legislation?

    • H.P. Baxxter says:

      “What are the advantages of having divorce legislation?”

      Er, inching closer to normality?

    • Rover says:

      “..young couples will enter marriage with less of a commitment knowing they have an escape clause…”

      I have often wondered what frame of mind one might be in when considering marriage on these lines. This, perhaps? “I shall marry Doris and give it a few months. If it doesn’t work out for me, I will then get a quickie divorce and marry Josephine who is my second choice.”

      Is this really the sort of thing young people contemplate when they get married with a so-called escape clause? I think not.

      I actually think young people are far more intelligent than that and they get married primarily because they are deeply in love. I think this is rather a poor slur on our young generation.

      The fact that they are marrying much later in life is also intelligent. Unfortunately, sometimes marriages break down and they then should have the right to terminate their contract and move on.

    • Joseph A Borg says:

      An example of pious truthiness:

      “That is my opinion and it is not based only on religion but mainly on the fact that divorce means more broken families and more children facing problems in their development”.

      That is not a fact. It’s your opinion, conflating broken marriages with divorce. If you know it’s a fact point us to the relevant studies that support this view.

    • Libertas says:

      We are already enduring the social cost and financial implications you mention by not allowing cohabiting couples to marry. In Malta, where everything seems to stand upside down, (previously married) couples are asking for marriage and the State is telling them to cohabit instead. Many of them are registering as single parents and asking for social benefits. This is the present situation already.

      You suggest a gold-standard marriage. But don’t we already have it? It’s Catholic marriage which is indissoluble. What we are talking about here is civil divorce. Couples will be able to terminate their civil contract and marry again. Full stop.

      You say that a second or third marriage are less stable. There are statistics from Britain showing that around half of second marriages end up in a new divorce. That means the other half stay together. But as of now in Malta, previously married cohabiting couples are 100% unstable because we don’t let them remarry. Not half, but all.

      Some of your arguments’ logic should lead you to the conclusion that civil divorce should be introduced. You say about marriage: “why ruin something which with all its problems has been around for eons and has worked for so many people? Why do we want to stop believing that people can commit themselves to one another for life, for better and for worse?” Precisely the argument why we should let long-separated people to divorce and enjoy the recognition and stability marriage affords to a new family. Why shouldn’t we believe that people can commit themselves for a second time?

      The situations you mention in your last paragraph apply only before separation. But after years of separation, you cannot really keep people from re-marrying their new partners.

      If your are in favour of the ‘value of the family’, you should enhance, even bless, the (new) family with marriage. You would not be in favour of the family if you keep telling people that they should cohabit rather than (re-)marry.

      Your whole argument compares civil divorce with an (impossible) ideal. What politicians should do is compare divorce with the situation as of now. Civil divorce (and remarriage if they want to) would be much better for society, for the State, for the couples involved and for their children than the present situation of forced cohabitation.

  19. Hypatia says:

    It is the habit of those who are against divorce to quote foreign statistics attesting to the negative effects of divorce on society, implying that the same would happen in Malta if divorce were to be introduced.

    Now, since Malta has no divorce law, our statistics are about separation not divorce – but the effects of separation are absolutely identical to those of divorce because, materially, there is no difference at all between the two situations.

    The differences are only abstract, a matter of law not of fact.

    All they have to do is compare divorce with separation and it would emerge that we already have divorce under a different name where social effects are concerned, including those on children.

    [Daphne – A case in point: ]

    The only difference is that separated couples are burdened with all the sad effects of divorce without having the right to marry again. It is surprising that such a simple concept should be so difficult to grasp unless, of course, one refuses to grasp it for ulterior motives such as religious arguments.

    And here lies the hypocrisy of those who refuse divorce for religious motives: they omit to mention their real reasons and hide behind social effects as if their sole interest is the common good and not the upholding of their religious prejudices.

    In international law, there is a concept called “jus cogens”, a term which means “compelling law”. Jus cogens may be defined as “that body of peremptory principles or norms from which no derogation is permitted; those norms recognized by the international community as a whole as being fundamental to the maintenance of an international legal order.”

    In short, if there is a principle with which the great majority of countries agree, then it is binding on all, even on those who disagree. An example is the ban on slavery.

    Now, divorce is definitely not a matter of international law – I stress this lest someone accuses me of mixing one thing with another – but, in my view, the principle of the applicability to all of laws accepted by the great majority of countries may also be extended to certain matters of private law such as divorce.

    It is inconceivable how divorce, which exists practically in all the countries of the world, continues to be denied to the less than half million citizens of Malta. I know this is a rather ideological argument but I would still propose it to our legislators. I am afraid, however, that none are so deaf as he who will not hear.

  20. Drinu says:

    Why so much fuss from the Catholics? If you marry in church then no divorce law is of any use because what God unites its forever (unless have or come up with a good excuse for annulment). So for Catholics there is NO divorce and there will never be, nor in Malta or other country.

    But just because they cannot have they shouldn’t deny it from those who need it and want it.

  21. Don't discriminate says:

    Perhaps, cynically, we should make divorce available just to those who have married civilly only.

    Then Catholics would not need to worry; they will still have their ‘gold-standard’ marriage as someone suggested above. It would be more like a gilded cage whose key is deposited in the annulment chambers of Mother Church.

    But then Catholics would certainly come out and say such a measure would be discriminatory. Which is precisely why Catholics should not impose their values on the rest of us.

  22. Hypatia says:

    Drinu: divorce and annulment are two different things – one is the declaration that marriage was invalid ab initio and the other is the declaration that a valid marriage is now dissolved.

    There can be no divorce for Catholics under Canon Law not under civil law.

    I would suggest you go deeper into these matters before jumping into the fray. Just as a matter of interest to you, you may be surprised to learn that Canon Law does, in fact, provide for the dissolution of a valid marriage: it is called dissolution in favour of the faith. Make a Google search and you may come out the wiser.

    • Drinu says:

      Hypatia: I know very well the difference between divorce and annulment. We have two annulments in the family and I was a witness in another one.

      My point is that many people are orchestrating scenarios in order to get their marriage nullified. It is a long and painful process but for many it’s worth the hassle to get your social status slate cleaned.

      I don’t really want to go into the religious aspect of divorce because I respect those who chose to tie the knot under their religion’s conditions.

      I just wish that such respect is shown to those who have different believes. If you do not believe in divorce then do not get divorced plain and simple.

      [Daphne – If people go to all the trouble of getting their marriage declared null to look ‘good’ in the eyes of society and when they want to marry again, then I must be very unusual. This is one woman’s perspective on things: when I hear that a man’s marriage has been declared null, my antennae go up immediately and I begin to regard him a little oddly. Let’s say I look more positively on a man who is divorced and is upfront about the fact that he was married, than on one whose marriage has been annulled and who clams up like his wife never existed or that it never happened. I find these things really weird. I mean, just look at the only possible grounds on which the Catholic tribunal declares a marriage null: they all raise serious doubts about the people involved. So why do they do it?]

  23. Min Weber says:

    “If both the political parties in parliament had declared in their 2008 manifesto that they would NOT introduce divorce legislation, then there certainly is a good political argument that neither party should bring such a bill before parliament.”

    This is sophistry, Daphne!

    Only crazy people would come up with a manifesto full of what they would NOT do if elected!

    [Daphne – Exactly, Min. It’s an example of when a political party CAN’T go against its own manifesto. In other words, there is no situation in which a political party can do that, because political parties don’t make pledges about what they WON’T do (except for, as you said, the crazies who pledged that they wouldn’t take us into the European Union). Promising NOT to do something is most binding and serious than promising to do it. It’s the difference between saying that you will pass on some information and not doing it, and promising not to pass on the information and then passing it on.]

  24. Min Weber says:

    Re: point number 3.

    So why are electoral promises (aka manifestos) done?

    [Daphne – To give you a general idea of what the party is all about. Nobody actually reads them. We just listen to the excerpts.]

    • Min Weber says:

      “To give you a general idea of what the party is all about. Nobody actually reads them. We just listen to the excerpts”

      This is the practice. In theory, however, they are the legislative programme on which the majority will work, and it can legislate only with the consent of the people.

      A majority which legislates without the mandate of the people is not democratic.

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