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The man who…brought divorce to Malta

This referendum wasn’t only about divorce. It was about the need to create a separation between church and state. The church has always been very influential in Malta and will continue to be, but a number of politicians were giving it too much leeway when it came to secular matters.

That should change now the referendum has passed. I think most Maltese people feel that the church still has a very important role in society and that it has stepped in and performed well where government should have done more, such as in the provision of homes for old people and the disabled, but a number of MPs and successive administrations have been scared to step on its toes.

Until now, a couple whose marriage had irreparably broken down only had two choices – co-habitation [with a new partner] or annulment. When you declare a marriage annulled you declare that it never existed and I could never understand that. This inability to leave a marriage has caused problems in Malta. One in three kids is being born out of wedlock. This is a very closely-knit, family orientated society but we’ve been forcing people to co-habit even though a number of them would have wanted to remarry after a first marriage had broken down.

Some of my fellow MPs, people I respect, have been trying to prohibit condom machines in universities, and the good thing about the referendum is that it’s sent a message to conservative legislators that the Maltese have moved on and we’re no longer stuck in the 1950s. That said, the bill we’ve introduced is very conservative. It’s based on the Irish model and it attempts to give people the chance to regularise their position after an irrevocably broken marriage without in any way encouraging marital breakdown. That was very important. I wouldn’t want that on my conscience. Marriages and the family are the fundamental building blocks of any society.

I’ve been in politics for 30 years and politically active since I was 15 and I have to say this was the most exhausting campaign I’ve ever fought. The No camp had unlimited funds provided by the church and open support from the ruling party and government, as opposed to the very limited funds on our side. But we had reason on our side, which helped a lot. On a personal level it has been tense. A couple of people have been taken to court because they threatened me physically. It’s been an interesting few months. I’m looking forward to a holiday.

For years my political party used the Philippines [now the only country still banning divorce] as an excuse. We said that the only two countries on the planet that appreciate the value of the family are Malta and the Philippines, which came across as ridiculous. But now that’s changed. The Irish needed two referendums to get it right and we did it in one. It’s a big deal considering we were a very small and dedicated group of individuals with extremely limited funds and no party support. It shows the democratic process is working in Malta. It makes me proud to be Maltese. I always have been, of course, but my pride has gone up a notch.

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