Pass the divorce bill already

It’s 2016 and the only two countries on the planet without a divorce law are the Vatican City and the Philippines.

It’s no surprise about the Vatican—their refusal to countenance divorce stems from the religious beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s also more of a gesture to save face despite all the logical arguments in favor of divorce—after all, they have to practice what they preach, and such a monolithical global organization takes decades, even centuries, to slowly grind a volte face to accept societal change and adapt their ways.

Government, however, especially one such as ours that has a “separation of church and state” policy enshrined in its Constitution, should be logical and reasonable. It is supposed to take into account what is good for all citizens, no matter their religious affiliation or lack thereof. It is not supposed to be held hostage by the beliefs nor ideology of a group or groups.

A Social Weather Stations survey conducted in the fourth quarter of 2014 revealed that 60 percent of Filipinos support the passage of a divorce law, with only 29 percent not in favor and 11 percent undecided.

The support for divorce was spread almost equally across the demographic: 57 percent from classes A, B, and C; 60 percent from D, and 58 percent from E. The SWS data also showed support was increasing over the past few years.

There have been various versions of the divorce law filed in Congress, but none have been passed so far.

Among the arguments in favor of such a law is the reality of being human. People make mistakes, deceive, lie, and change over the course of years and the circumstances of life.

The arguments against fail to be as compelling: religious reasons, and the need to keep the family together. How is it logical or beneficial for two angry and often hostile individuals with irreconcilable differences to remain chained to each other? Their conflicts affect all the members of the family, and in most cases, it is better for a clean break so that peace may be regained and the parties receive a fresh start to their lives. This is especially necessary in cases of abandonment and marital and domestic abuse, where the common victims are wives and children.

Presently the law only provides for legal separation, which does not allow the individuals to remarry. All too often, they cohabit with other partners. This puts the partners and any children they may have at a legal disadvantage.

In order to cope with the constraints of not having divorce, our society has evolved mechanisms that address the need to have something with more closure than legal separation. A marriage annulment may be granted by the court if pre-existing psychological reasons are found that make one or both of the parties ineligible to contract marriage.

This has given rise to a cottage industry of lawyers who work on annulments often as a sideline to their regular jobs, in coordination with psychologists who can provide the appropriate grounds for the annulment of the marriage. A common question among my peers is, “Do you know any lawyers who do annulments?” The asking price for an annulment package is several hundred thousand pesos. This remedy, therefore, is available only to those with the financial capacity. What about those who can’t afford it? Now, is that fair and just?

An annulment also invalidates the marriage from the start, on grounds that it should not have been celebrated in the first place because of psychological incapacity on the part of one or both of the partners. This is patently a workaround of the law, and does not recognize that in many cases, the marriage was fine to begin with, but broke down over time.

A divorce recognizes that there was a marriage, but that it is necessary to end it for whatever reason. This way, the original reasons for the marriage are honored and respected. It also assuages the fears of the children of the marriage, who ask: “If my parents’ marriage is annulled, am I legitimate?”

Many are looking to president-elect Rodrigo Duterte, a symbol for much-needed changes in society, to push for a divorce bill. His own personal life story is a textbook case for divorce as a necessary means for moving on.

Maybe under this administration, logic and reason will prevail and a divorce bill will be passed, to put an end to the hypocrisy of these societal norms and practices related to marriage. 

Facebook:  Jenny Ortuoste, 

Twitter: @jennyortuoste, 

Instagram @jensdecember

Topics: Pass the divorce bill already

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