MPs in Catholic Malta pass historic law on divorce

image captionMalta is seeing the changing of the guard on a centuries-old institution

Members of parliament in mainly Roman Catholic Malta have passed an historic law legalising divorce.

The law is due to take effect in October if, as expected, it is approved by President George Abela. The prime minister voted against it.

Currently, Maltese people have to travel abroad to obtain divorces.

MPs passed the law by 52 votes to 11 with five abstentions and one absence, months after 53% of voters backed the reform in a referendum.

An Associated Press correspondent reports that the outcome in parliament is a crushing victory considering that most laws in Malta are passed by just one vote.

Nineteen MPs from the ruling Nationalist Party approved the legislation, going against their party's official stand.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was one of the few who rejected the bill, believing divorce legislation would weaken the family structure.

Before Monday's vote, Malta was the only EU state without divorce legislation.

Until now, couples could apply only for a legal separation through the courts or seek a Church annulment - a complex process that can take up to nine years.

A third option was to get divorced abroad - and that would then be valid in Malta.

The island nation of 410,000 is believed to be 95% Catholic.

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