Divorce 'directly linked to Malta's European identity' - Joseph Muscat

Closing off a 10-session debate on the Opposition’s divorce motion, Opposition leader Joseph Muscat said the introduction of divorce was linked with Malta’s identity as a European country.

Closing off the debate on the motion today, Joseph Muscat said the decision to introduce divorce or not was closely linked with Malta’s identity, and in line with the choice made years ago to become a European Union member state.

He defended the choice of a specific referendum question, saying that while MPs didn’t want to approve quick-fix ‘Las Vegas-sytle’ divorce, “one cannot be sure of further parliaments in future.”

He said Malta shouldn’t introduce divorce because all other EU countries have it, but because the country felt it is time to introduce it. “If we think our standpoint (without divorce) is a good one, we should remain firm and retain divorce even if we are the last country to do so. The argument that we should introduce divorce because we are the only country, aside from the Vatican and the Philippines, not to have it does not impress me.”

However, he said that he felt that Malta would be wrong in doing so, adding that the question of divorce is not a religious issue, but a moral one.

He added that the European values towards which Malta should aspire were values like solidarity, inclusion, democracy, and equality “which are however all underpinned by the value of tolerance.”

He said tolerance meant that the principle of choice should be safeguarded. “Choice implies rights, and these rights cannot be denied.”

He said that currently, Malta was living in state of hypocritical ‘tolerance’ where couples who experience marital breakdown and then find new partners are forced to cohabit. Muscat also said that the introduction of responsible divorce would uncover the social problems prevalent in broken marriages but which are swept under the carpet, and provide a way to address them.

He also welcomed the divorce debate as it also gave MPs the chance to speak about other social issues such as separation, maintenance, the vulnerability of children during marital breakdown, and annulment.

He rebutted statements by Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami, who argued that the state should not be there to legislate to remove “gravel from people’s shoes”. What Malta is coping with, Muscat said, “is not gravel, but rocks that are leading to the suffering of families, spouses, and children.”

Addressing another concern that Fenech Adami tabled, that spouses would be then able to divorce and remarry at will, Muscat said that annulment too can be obtained as many times as one wished. “Personally I find it difficult to accept this concept – but our legal system accepts it, so how can we not accept the idea of responsible divorce?” he said.

In a veiled reference to Fenech Adami’s own siblings, three of whom had their marriages annulled, Muscat said that “some people speak this way because their own situations are already well catered for.”

Also responding to statements by Tonio Fenech who earlier said that the state must legislate cohabitation instead because “it is a state of fact”, Muscat said: “drugs too are a state of fact– should we regulate those too?”

Responding to statements made by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, Muscat said: “I’ve yet to see a country that removed divorce after this was introduced, despite how some claimed that it is such a source of damage and insatiability.”

“Divorce is a symptom of marital breakdown,” he said, citing some of the sources of marital breakdown as “the consumerist mentality, short term satisfaction, and additional financial burdens that increases stress and harsh conditions on families.”

He said that “bills, pressure of work, cost of living, education costs, health costs, and all other burdens that place economic burdens on families are more of a threat to marriage than any divorce law.”

Muscat also raised concerns that the cohabitation law could turn out to be “a form of perverse substitute for divorce.”  He added that Malta has been recognising divorce “for years, as long as it comes from the court of another country.”

This means that to qualify, one needs to live abroad, marry a foreigner, or afford to obtain residence abroad, he said. “If the Prime Minister believes that divorce is so bad, why doesn’t he change the law? He said that international law does not allow this, but from his words, values come above law,” Muscat said sarcastically.

Commenting on the possibility of the referendum outcomes, Muscat said that the referendum had a real risk of resulting in a no vote. “It could be that it passes, or that we have to wait longer. But irrespectively of the result, I need to be able to look in people’s eyes and say that I was on the right side of history,” he said.

He also said that he would be taking an active role within the debate in the days leading up to the referendum.

He hit out at Gonzi for coming out as a party against the introduction of divorce and claiming that it was not yet time to introduce it. “With this attitude the Gonzi is sacrificing those men and women and children who are suffering in the meantime.”

He said that whatever the result, he would respect the will of the people.

Sure proof of Joseph Muscat's European credentials. Where are the Bidnija Europeanists now? The last thing we heard from Bidnija was when the most notorious member of that otherwise quiet community was when she called JPO "nittien" for proposing the divorce legislation! Unbelievable!
Good speech. I voted for the EU (and PN at the time) because I wanted Malta to be more secular and liberal.
Good sensible speech that layed waste the feeble rethoric and excuses of the main NO speakers in parliament.