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Marlene Pullicino offered to co-sponsor divorce bill

Marlene Pullicino: now in favour of divorce.

Marlene Pullicino: now in favour of divorce.

They may be separated; they may be in opposing political camps, but Marlene Pullicino believed so much in Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s decision to present a Private Member’s Bill on divorce she had offered to co-sponsor it.

“When Jeffrey discussed the Bill with me, I proposed we present it in Parliament together so as not to divide the Maltese; I wanted to take divorce beyond partisan politics,” the Labour MP said yesterday.

The conversation was struck last summer when the two were flying to Germany to visit their sick daughter and were sitting side by side on the aircraft. Because “otherwise we don’t talk much,” she said with a laugh.

Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando presented the Bill in July, taking the Nationalist Party and the country by surprise and getting the cogs moving for a debate in Parliament and an eventual decision on divorce.

Marlene Pullicino Orlando yesterday addressed a seminar on divorce organised by the Green European Foundation, with the support of Alternattiva Demo­kratika’s Ceratonia Foundation. The Labour MP said she opposed a referendum and believed MPs should be the ones to decide.

Describing herself as a “concubine”, she said she was above all a Roman Catholic, and would not be applying for divorce – preferring to wait for an annulment.

“However, I won’t enforce my moral code on anyone... My duty is to legislate. I will vote in favour of a law (on divorce) that makes sense,” she told those who had gathered at Juliani Hotel, St Julian’s, to listen to the debate.

It was a lively audience who made their voices heard, especially when Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo mentioned that both Labour and PN were fac­ing an “uncomfortable reality” because none of them had listed divorce in their respective electoral manifestos.

“We are facing contradictory situations. Strictly speaking those who voted for us can tell us we don’t have a right, yet at the same time an MP had a right to present a Private Member’s Bill. But what if I present one on abortion?” he asked hypothetically, angering some people who told him not to compare the two issues.

After reading the information available and looking at the ­reality in other countries, Mr Vassallo said he would vote against divorce because he felt it was the least damaging choice for society.

AD chairman Michael Briguglio said his party had been talking about divorce since 1989 and accused Labour and PN of acting like Pontius Pilate and washing their hands of responsibility by agreeing to have a referendum.

He declared AD would be at the forefront of a ‘yes’ campaign, and appealed to those who disagreed with a referendum not to boycott it, but stand up and be counted.

“There are those who want us to remain a crib in the Mediterranean... Divorce is a basic civil right, even if one person needs it,” Mr Briguglio said.

Divorce in Ireland had not led to explosion in cases

Looking back on a law introduced 15 years ago, an Irish campaigner believes in hindsight divorce should be granted after spouses have lived apart for two years, not four.

If Kristina McElroy had to do things differently this is what she would change in the law because she believes four years is too hard for people to face.

“Couples should be able to divorce quicker. If everything is in place and they would have gone through the mediation process, then I think two years’ separation is enough,” she told The Sunday Times, after addressing the half-day seminar.

Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s Private Member’s Bill has been based on the Irish model.

Ms McElroy, who today forms part of the Green Party Ireland, said the introduction of divorce had not led to an explosion in cases before the courts, and Ireland still had the lowest divorce rate in Europe.

Smiling at the emotions unfolding before her during the seminar, which she described as déjà vu, Ms McElroy talked about the tough campaign to get people to vote ‘yes’, while facing accusations of doing “Satan’s work”.

Ireland had first attempted to introduce divorce in a referendum in 1986 but failed. Being a predominately Catholic country there was a lot of scaremongering, but the ‘yes’ camp fought back.

Eventually the second referendum passed – it was a close shave with 50.3 per cent in favour and 49.7 per cent against – but not before a dramatic late night recount in November 1995.

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