Divorce draft law surprises Gonzi
Joseph Muscat to grant free vote in Parliament
Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando yesterday surprised the country by presenting a full blown divorce Bill for parliamentary discussion, prompting a strong rebuttal by the Archbishop.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said he disagreed with Dr Pullicino Orlando's position and his method, admitting he had been kept in the dark about the draft law.
"This is not something that should be presented as a surprise without any process of examination or consultation. But we need to discuss this in the parliamentary group to take an official position," Dr Gonzi said.
Ironically, while Dr Gonzi knew nothing of the initiative, Dr Pullicino Orlando had hinted to his former wife, who sits on the opposition benches, that he was working on the divorce Bill.
Dr Pullicino Orlando said in a press statement: "We cannot allow our religious sentiments to interfere with our obligations towards citizens who wish to regularise their position following an irrevocably failed marriage."
A dentist whose own marriage to Labour MP Marlene Pullicino failed years ago, Dr Pullicino Orlando did what Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat promised he would do on becoming Prime Minister: move a Private Member's Bill on divorce.
PN sources claimed this was not a clever strategic move to pull the divorce rug from under Dr Muscat's feet but simply a bombshell dropped by a lone ranger, which, however, would still be analysed.
In an interview on Radio RTK, the station run by the Maltese diocese, Archbishop Paul Cremona said the move came like a "bolt of lightning" and he hoped it would be defeated.
"Convinced Catholics should vote in favour of stable marriages and against divorce... I don't know how much clearer against divorce you can be," he said, egged on by callers who urged him to take a strong stand.
He said divorce was nowhere in the electoral manifestos of both parties, so no MP had the moral authority to do something like this.
The Nationalist parliamentary group said it would be holding a meeting today to discuss the draft law.
"The Prime Minister believes the discussion within the party should be guided with the conviction of taking the best measures in favour of the family, particularly those most vulnerable," it said.
Dr Muscat said his position in favour of divorce as a civil right was well known and he would, as promised, grant a free vote in Parliament.
He called for a widespread consultation process and for the Bill to be studied deeply through a bi-partisan debate focusing on children's interests.
Alternattiva Demokratika, which only last month petitioned MPs to introduce a Private Member's Bill, welcomed the move and said: "If such legislation were introduced, Malta will no longer be the black sheep of the EU."