Saturday, 26 February 2011

Times: ‘Church cannot interfere in civil aspect of marriage’, 25th February 2011

Opposition spokesman on justice José Herrera told Parliament on Wednesday that while the Church had every right to pronounce itself on the sacramental aspect of marriage, it could not interfere in its civil aspect. One needed to affirm the principle that there was a separation between Church and State and therefore, the issue must be tackled from the juridical aspect.

Speaking during the debate on the motion for holding a referendum on the introduction of divorce, Dr Herrera said that this was undoubtedly a historic moment. The Maltese were far more emancipated and mature now more than ever and believed in freedom of conscience.

He recounted the trepidation caused when the Nationalist administration of the 1960s was considering decriminalising homosexuality and the awe at the introduction of civil marriage by the Labour administration of the 1970s. What was obvious today was not so obvious in the past.

Dr Herrera deplored the fact that the country still had an agreement with the church with regard to annulments. Why was this possible when we believed that there ought to be a separation between the two entities? Did we really believe this?

He praised opposition MPs and government backbenchers who allowed for more legislative initiative to be taken, thus affirming Parliament’s sovereignty. Within limits, they were proactively contributing to society. Expressing his disagreement with Family Minister Dolores Cristina’s contention that there was no civil right to divorce but only a social right, Dr Herrera reminded the House that, the rescinding of any contract did not signify that upon signing of the contract the intention of the parties was not genuine.

Other forms of agreement were also broken. Why was this not possible when the intention was bona fide?

He said that being in favour of divorce did not mean that one was against marriage. Divorce remained an option and was not forced upon people. One had the duty to form a family. How could one do so if there was no compatibility? Why could the person not also have the right to perform this same duty in a different unity?

Malta was the only member of the Council of Europe not to have done so. The International Court of Human Rights in The Hague was a liberal one, albeit too liberal. Persons, as evidenced recently, could obtain the right to get married following an irreversible process of gender change through this court. One could not have a framework denying divorce.

Dr Herrera said morality and purely civil issues were being confounded. Malta didn’t differentiate between the church and the state. Spain and Italy were Catholic countries, but still they had divorce legislation. One needed to tackle the issue from a juridical aspect.

Nowadays it paid to have children out of wedlock, he said, and called on Minister Cristina to correct the situation. Today’s lifestyle was more tolerant, more consumerist. Traditional taboos have come to nothing and were practically non-existent. The reality was that the more freedom there was, the better it was. Living a lie for the sake of being seen by persons to be still united could not benefit anybody. In 2006 there were 184 marriages annulled through the civil court, 27 annulled through the church tribunal and five in Gozo. A year later, the cases increased.

Cases of separations were 700 in 2006 and 854 in 2010. There were 113 other cases where both parties remained in disagreement. The Family Court was being bombarded and this is evidence enough that this was exactly the right moment to discuss this issue.He expressed his disappointment with the seeming idea that divorce would lead to children suffering while cohabitation wouldn’t. Children were being used as pawns and used as threats for maintenance payments. He agreed that children were suffering. What was the difference between a divorced person and a separated one?

Annulment should not exist in a civil case. Stress caused by an annulment was worse. The year-long process was a cold one and the reasons given were very humiliating and personal, such as sexual and mental inadequacy. These should cease to exist as they caused a great deal of humiliation especially for children. In past times, annulment used to be private. Only those who really believed in the sacramental aspect of marriage should apply for an annulment.

The minister had said that in expressing her views she was not imposing them on others.

Dr Herrera said no one had the right to impose one’s views on the personal matters of an individual. Nobody had a right to impose religion or belief on others.

Parliament needed to be more tolerant and acknowledge it had no right to impose.
Concluding, Dr Herrera said his experience had confirmed there were areas where the state had no right to impose on the minority.

The debate continues

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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