"The cohesion, the strength and the efficiency of the family, as a unit of society, constitute the key to and the measure of the greatness of a nation."
The burning issue on the legalization of divorce in the Philippines, in my mind, begs the question: “What is marriage?”
Echoing the 1987 Constitution, the Family Code of the Philippines defines marriage as “a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal and family life.” The law also affirms marriage to be the “foundation of the family and an inviolable social institution.”
From this legal definition of marriage alone, one can easily deduce its essential nature: indissolubility and unity. Thus, permanence is not simply a consequence, but it is inherent in the institution of marriage itself, regardless of the will or intention of the individuals concerned.
Therefore, without permanence, a supposed union between a man and woman would lose an essential quality for it to qualify as marriage.
This is what proponents for the legalization of divorce unfortunately are pushing for—the redefinition of marriage.
The enactment of a divorce law in the Philippines will inevitably remove indissolubility from the inherent nature, and subjecting it to the will, and sadly at times to the whim of the spouses. The adverse consequences of this legislation, however, go beyond the civil status of the spouses or their right to remarry. It will have far reaching effects on the stability and the structuring of society.
From the very beginning of history, men and women have lived in families and despite shifting cultural and societal realities, the family remains as one of the oldest and most important social institutions on earth. All over the world, the family is considered the bedrock of a nation, and the Philippines is no exception.
In fact, the Philippines is one country where family ties are the strongest. This high regard for the institution is far from just being a religious or cultural truth. It is also a societal fact. The importance of the Filipino family derives, not only as a source of emotional support and the context for the development of profound personal relations, but also for many other aspects of social life, from financial support to even finding employment. Being so, the existence, conditions, development and preservation of marriage is of particular importance to the general welfare of our nation.
Introducing divorce would effectively provide spouses a way out of the indissoluble nature of marriage. Consequently, marriage, as the law would now perceive it, would be less than lifelong, stable and permanent.
It is important to point out that the permanence of marriage provides the best foundation for the stability of family life and the rearing of children. It is exactly for these responsibilities toward their children and the community, that the law accords the institution of marriage its rights and simply not for the mere emotional or psychological sentiments of the couple.
Marriage, therefore, is not simply a question of rights, but also of responsibilities. If the married couple is unable or unwilling to embrace these responsibilities—permanence included, then their rights to conjugal life becomes questionable.
However, one cannot be oblivious to this reality of broken marriages. Some marriages are entered into without the necessary maturity or full knowledge and ability to keep such a permanent commitment, or without full free will because of external pressures. This is a sad reality for many of our families, who because of social, cultural, moral and even economic difficulties, brought about by the complexities, demands and challenges of modern life.
Therefore, recourse is given to married couples to examine if a marriage if it was less than what the law views as a valid marriage, a freely chosen commitment between two mature, knowledgeable and capable adults to enter a covenant of love, for life, with priority to spouse and children.
This process is more familiar to us as the annulment of marriage.
Unlike divorce, an annulment does not attempt to redefine marriage as it is. It does not subtract permanence from the nature of marriage, nor subject the institution to the will of the spouses. In the end, far from weakening it, the annulment process affirms its dignity of marriage by removing the obligations of marital life from a man and a woman who may be in an invalid marriage.
Unknown to many, even the Catholic Church has recognized the plight of broken marriages. In reaching out to couples who “show signs of a wounded and troubled love” and out of a desire to make the annulment process more efficient, Pope Francis, has introduced radical reforms in the annulment procedure, substantively altering the Church’s annulment laws since 1758.
While the Pope reaffirmed traditional teaching on the “indissolubility of marriage”, he streamlined annulment procedures which many considered cumbersome, lengthy, outdated and expensive to make it affordable and accessible to Catholics.
For example, Pope Francis introduced a brief annulment process that involves the local bishop, and requires only a single judgment, eliminating the need for an automatic appeal to a higher tribunal. Likewise, he has asked bishops that the annulment process will be now free of charge.
Unlike divorce, an annulment does not “undo” a marriage. It does not try to erase the historical truth that a marriage happened, and that an emotional relationship between the couple never existed. Instead, annulment simply declares that a marriage thought to be valid actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union.
What is needed though is a thorough and comprehensive review of the annulment process to make it accessible, affordable and available to those in need of it. There may be a need to expand the grounds for annulment to include those acts that point out to lack of understanding about the requisites of marriage, which can be manifested only during the marriage itself, such as unwillingness by one of the spouses to procreate, the spouses separating very quickly after being married, and the stubborn persistence in an extramarital affair at the time of the wedding or at a time immediately after.
Additional grounds for annulment may also include malicious concealment of a matter that affects one’s decision to marry, such as children born from a previous marriage, or having a reason that is completely incompatible with married life, such as marriage due to an unplanned pregnancy, or psychological incapacity to assume marital obligations manifested in repeated physical violence or grossly abusive conduct.
While it cannot be denied that many oppose the legalization of divorce for religious reasons, it must be stressed that there are reasons evident in natural law that affirm that for marriage to serve its ends, it must be fixed and definite, in order to assure the building of a family and the growth of the society. Divorce simply ignores this fact, and merely subjects marriage to the arbitrariness of individual choices or the vagaries of human frailties.
The cohesion, the strength and the efficiency of the family, as a unit of society, constitute the key to and the measure of the greatness of a nation. While it is true that no one has to suffer the agony of a cruel and oppressive marriage or the trauma of a discordant home, denying marriage the dignity that it is due and dismantling the institution which is regarded as the foundation of this nation, is simply too much of a price to pay.