Malta is the only member state of the European Union which has not introduced divorce law into its body of legislature and, with the Phillipines, is one of only two countries in the world which does not allow spouses to legally end a marriage
Married Maltese couples are able to legally separate – and there are rules and procedures for financial settlements and maintenance payments – but they are not allowed to marry any further partner as they remain formally joined to their original spouse.
However, all this could soon change, as the country is about to vote in a referendum on the subject.
Pro-family campaigners in the tiny country of just 400,000 residents have said it could cause a sudden surge in family break-ups and cause an “unhealthy” society, but, despite the population being 95% Catholic, the island nation is divided and the outcome is far from clear cut.
The ballot paper will pose the following question, “Do you agree with having the option of divorce for married couples who have been separated for four years when there is no reasonable hope for reconciliation, and when adequate maintenance is guaranteed and the children are cared for?”
The “No” vote is being championed by the Church and the conservative, Nationalist-run government, while the Labour Party remains relatively impartial.
“Yes” voters are said to be largely made up of young people and a major proportion of the island’s middle class residents who wish to see Malta brought into line with the rest of Europe and the world. The “Yes” vote is also being heavily promoted in the nation’s press.
For many, the decision has been too long in the making, as one 73-year old Maltese man told the Telegraph.
“I am being forced by the state to call the person with whom I was living 31 years ago my wife while the person I have lived with for 19 years is just my partner, ” he said.
“That is hypocritical and I just cannot accept that kind of hypocrisy.”
For many Maltese residents, an introduction of divorce law would mean they were able to finally marry a person they have lived with for many years, so, perhaps, any change to the legislature would have a knock-on effect of causing an upsurge in weddings rather than merely creating a market for divorces.