The New Year is a time for reflection and a look back at some the people and events that made a difference in the quality of people’s lives. A recent article by author Stephen Calleja in the Malta Independent Online covering the top stories and events that had the greatest impact on public opinion during 2010 gives a shout-out to the fact that a recently proposed Divorce Bill was the â€œMost Unexpectedâ€ event of the year in that tiny nation. The author’s conclusion might lead some to wonder why legislation concerning divorce would be of such great importance in Malta.
The answer lies in a lack of divorce laws in Malta going back to 1964 when the island nation first gained its independence from the United Kingdom, and then became a republic in 1974. Today, Malta is considered to be a modern, developed nation and is a member of the United Nations and a member of the European Union. However, the country has never had any way for its citizens to get a legal divorce. There have been civil marriage laws on the books since 1975, but no divorce laws. The situation required Maltese citizens to get divorced abroad in order for the courts in Malta to recognize their legal right to get remarried.
Looking back, the road to divorce in Malta has been slow for over 50 years. In 1984, a motion for the introduction of divorce was withdrawn after pressure from the Labor Party leadership and the Church. In 1989, the new-at-the-time Alternattiva Demokratika party made divorce a central part of its electoral program without result and in 1996, a Bill proposing divorce for couples who had been separated for five years never sees light either.
In 1998, The Commission for the Future of the Family proposed the introduction of divorce, but no Bill is ever presented to the government. In 2008, things looked brighter when the Labor Party leader said he would introduce a Private Member’s Bill on divorce and the Social Policy Minister said it was time to start a serious discussion on the matter, but no divorce bill made the floor.
In 2010, Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando surprised colleagues and opponents alike when he presented a Private Member’s Bill introducing divorce based on the Irish model and thus created the â€œMost Unexpectedâ€ event of the year in Malta. Now it seems that the national debate sparked by Pullicino Orlando may finally lead to long-awaited divorce legislation sometime in 2011.