The Philippines, the only country apart from the Vatican to ban divorce, moved towards legalisation when the lower house passed legislation which would allow a divorcee to marry another person of the opposite sex.
The vote was won by 134 to 57 in the House of Representatives.
It will become law if the senate passes it and President Rodrigo Duterte does not use his veto. Several senators allied to Duterte having publicly stated their opposition to the legislation.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called for “more reasoned debates on the issue”.
The CBCP claimed that offering divorce as an “easy option” would result in marriages and families breaking up more easily.
“We merely ask that they consider the possibility that divorce, while it may indeed provide quick legal remedies for some seemingly ‘failed marriages’, might end up destroying even those marriages that could have been saved by dialogue or the intervention of family, friends, pastors and counsellors,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles, the CBCP president.
The CBCP, however, lacks the political influence to block the legislation.
“In divorce and dissolution of marriage proceedings, there is no more marriage to protect or union to destroy because the marriage has long perished,” said opposition leader Edcel Lagman, a sponsor of the bill.
“The institution of absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage does not negate the steadfast commitment of the state to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte opposed the legalisation of divorce but he did not say whether the divorced president would veto the bill.
“The president is against divorce. He said the children will suffer,” Roque told a press conference. He admitted that president, who has made casual jokes about gang rape, was aware of the prevailing view in congress.
The only way to end a marriage is to bring a prolonged civil annulment case in which a judge declares a union invalid.
Grounds for divorce currently include an inability to consummate the marriage and if one party has contracted a sexually transmissible disease.
Applicants must undergo a mental test, testify in court and sometimes even claim that they or their spouse entered the marriage while afflicted by a condition like narcissism.
The process can take a decade and cost at least US$5,000.
Duterte secured a separation from his estranged wife through this process before he was elected president.
The Philippines is a deeply Catholic country. Picture credit: Flickr