Will you vote for this question next Saturday?
"Are you in favour of divorce when:
• only one of the parties is in favour and want to impost it on the other party who is totally against;
• you don't need a reason to be divorced – just live with someone else or alone for four years and then just say that you don't want to go back to live with your partner;
• maintenance is granted but its payment is not in any way guaranteed;
• an effort to respect children's rights is made but no guarantee can be given expect that children will suffer in the process?"
This is not the actual question that will be printed on the ballot paper that you will be given next Saturday. However, if you read the text carefully, you will surly realise that this is the REAL question that you will be asked to answer next Saturday. This is what the question concocted by the Partit Laburista in favour of JPO's et al divorce legislation really implies.
The PL's question is an unfair question
The Partit Laburista is doing what is done by those who, as the Maltese proverb says, juruk id-debba u jqabbzulek il-hmara. They speak of responsible divorce i.e. a divorce which is not easily dished out, but then present a motion for an irresponsible divorce. The stark reality is that JPO's divorce can be imposed on unwilling partners; it does not guarantee maintenance grants as no one can guarantee them and it goes nowhere near guaranteeing children's rights. You need two things only to divorce: you want it and you are ready to wait some time for it.
The referendum question that you will be presented with is one which is biased in favour of the pro divorce stand. This is totally understandable as it was presented by a political party which is staunchly pro-divorce. It is true that the Partit Laburista did not take an official position on the subject but it is equally true that its leadership has taken a de facto pro divorce position. This position is most evident in the programmes on the media of the Partit Laburista and the media of its consort, the GWU. Anyone who follows them will immediately recognise where the heart of the Partit Laburista is.
Dr Adrian Vassallo, MP for the Partit Laburista criticised Labour media in an opinion piece published in The Times (210511):
"I feel I must also remark that certain comments broadcast by One News seem to be biased, giving a push to the yes movement, when, according to the Malta Labour Party, the party has taken no stand on the issue and expects all its supporters to be guided by their conscience. I find this strange when Evarist Bartolo, co-presenter of the divorce Bill, is at present head of One News. This is surely a conflict of interest and certainly deserves consideration by all the Maltese electorate."
I would like to add the edition of Affari Taghna of Friday May 20 as an example of an extremely biased programme. A statement by Moviment Zwieg Bla Divorzju said that it drew the attention of the Broadcasting Authority before the programmes was broadcast. It was obvious that the programme was going to be a biased one. The Authority did nothing effective. The programme lived to expectations and was totally and unashamedly biased in favour of the pro-divorce lobby.
The same can be said about Bla Agenda of Saturday May 22. The best that can be said is that it was five against two. However Dr Bernard Grech on the no side gave a great performance. He did not concede an inch and won kilometres, though he was also hampered by that guy from the Kristu Iva, Divorzju Le movement who are the greatest asset of the Yes Campaign.
A self-respecting Broadcasting Authority will surely take action to redress the imbalance created.
Now back to the referendum question.
It is important to emphasise that next Saturday we are not being asked whether we are in favour of divorce of not. We are being asked whether we are in favour of a particular kind of divorce. Even if one is in principle in favour of divorce one has to ask oneself a number of questions to conclude whether one is in favour of JPO's and Evarist Bartolo's divorce legislation proposal.
Are you in favour of introducing divorce legislation before any kind of family impact assessment study was held and even before we have an adjourned snapshot of Maltese families and marriage? Such a snapshot will be taken during the November 2011 census.Are you in favour of a law which permits the guilty party in a marriage to dissolve the marriage contract even against the expressed wishes of the innocent party? This also happens in separation cases; but separation is radically different from divorce. Separation does not radically change our concept of marriage. Are you in favour of divorce legislation which empowers anyone to divorce even without bringing forward any kind of justification or, at least, even a lame excuse? The proposed legislation says that you do not need any justification or excuse to divorce. You just walk out and stay out for four years.Are you in favour of introducing in Maltese another legislative measure that will harm children more than they are being harmed by separation? Are you in favour of using our energy to propose divorce legislation instead of using all our national resources to strengthen our families? One can object saying that we could do both. This is true. However, does it not make more sense to do a collective effort to heal our families before tempting them with a measure that will not solve – perhaps with few exceptions - any basic problem but will create new problems for our families?
There are many people who will not agree with my position as they think that divorce is a civil remedy that should be available to Maltese citizens. I respect their opinion which is a legitimate one. There are those who will vote yes because they are disgusted with the behaviour of several in the no camp, including several on different levels of the ecclesiastical food chain. Even I, on several occasions, have shown my disagreement with such deplorable antics.
I will vote no as the question that we have to respond to and the draft which is being proposed are a hurried and amateurish attempt aimed at changing permanently the model of marriage that has underpinned our society for centuries. Marriage and the family deserve better.