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Mullahs in the control room

I could imagine the decision-makers in the Nationalist Party’s control room. Let’s not commemorate International Workers’ Day this May 1 so that people could watch the beatification of John Paul II. Yes and that will also help us avoid having to respond on the current topic concerning the dire conditions of workers on contracted government work, on May Day of all days.

They must have all been of the same mind with no one drawing their attention that one celebration does not exclude the other and that, as a political party, their duty was to organise a workers’ day public activity. John Paul II’s beatification had already been well taken care of by the Vatican and Rai for those who wished to follow it. In fact, many people enjoyed both: they watched the beatification and attended the Labour Party’s workers’ day commemoration.

By opting out of May Day for the reason they gave, the PN continues to add further confusion between what is Church territory and what is the realm of party politics and state governance. For the PN and the government there are no boundaries separating these areas.

Nothing new to this approach. We have been confirming again how real this is these last few months in the way the PN and the government are ignoring those who want to enter a second state marriage after their first broke down irretrievably. Here again, the issue is steamrollered flat by the religious passions of Cabinet ministers propped up by the no-to-divorce-law-for-some side, which is misleading voters beyond anything I can recall.

The Maltese people have had the right to civil divorce, obtained from foreign courts and recognised here, for 36 years, so what is being discussed is the extension of this right to be granted by Maltese courts. This is a purely state matter. The indissolubility of Catholic marriage has nothing to do with this – that is a subject for the Roman Catholic Church. The concern is about civil marriage and civil divorce. But how many people are aware of this? Church marriage and civil divorce are purposely being mixed up by those whose intention is to confound minds.

Things are clear for those who want to see them. The position of those who are legally separated is like that of divorced persons, with the only difference that the former cannot get married again. A separation dissolves a marriage contract and the couple only remains married in name. The couple go their separate ways and try to move on. Some choose to forge new relationships and live with their new partners and, maybe, even have children. The only thing they cannot have is a civil marriage, even though their new commitment is that of a marriage but it cannot be called so because the legal mechanism does not exist.

Another observation is: How perverse is it to deny state marriage to separated people who want to marry and at the same time propose a cohabitation law to them?

But those who can shout most because they have the means to do so avoid these arguments. I watched a bit of debate last week and was truly saddened by the patronising attitude of those who know much better: “How will divorced people afford to pay two electricity bills, that of the current family and that of the former family?” Answer: Just like those having to pay the bills for the new family they live with and those of the first family from which they are separated. The point is not the difficulty of paying electricity bills for two families but that the predicament is not brought about by divorce. The double bills problem already exists since separated people who are cohabiting with new partners are in the same situation.

Is this so difficult to understand? Of course not, even the Drs mouthing this fallacious argument on the debate know this and it is a real shame that they resort to insult their audience in this way.

The same goes for the Children’s Commissioner who quoted an American study stating that the probability of offspring suffering from mental illness later in life increases from 10 per cent to 25 per cent when their parents divorce.

The issue for me is not – as pointed out in some newspapers - that the commissioner was intellectually dishonest when she omitted the part of the report which says “the majority of findings show that most children do well”. What matters more is that she could only quote studies that refer to divorce as this exists everywhere (except for you know where) and, thus, what is said of reconstituted families after divorce – in this case vis-à-vis mental health – must be extrapolated to reconstituted families after separation here. Thus, we already are – and have always been - swimming in that water. The concern is about the effect on children living in these second families, whether the natural parents are divorced or separated.

We speak of progress while, in reality, the long conservative hegemony continues to thrive and hold us back.

Dr Dalli is the opposition’s spokesman on the public service and gender equality.

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