Last week, the Philippines’ legislature took major steps towards introducing a law that would legalize divorce in the only country, aside from the Vatican, without a legal provision for ending a marriage.
However, the new law may not make it past fierce opposition in the predominantly Catholic nation, including that of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose spokesman he is “against divorce.”
But while the president has taken a hardline view on ending marriages, he has holds liberal views on same-sex marriages and in December said he supported same-sex marriage, which is currently illegal in the Philippines.
“I said I am for (same) sex marriage if that is the trend of the modern times,” he said. “If that will add to your happiness, I am for it.”
Despite once calling the Catholic Church “the most hypocritical institution,” Duterte leads the third largest Catholic population in the world with 80% of its population identifying as believers. The Philippines Catholic identity is strong and hugely influences the country’s laws.
Philippines’ divorce law is steeped in Catholic tradition
The Philippines, along with the Vatican, are the only places in the world without legal divorce proceedings.
This wasn’t always the case. Divorce was legal when the Philippines was under US rule in the early 20th century.
But the country moved to prohibit divorce in 1949 with the introduction of the Civil Code. The code is steeped in Catholic beliefs, which views marriage as a binding, life-long commitment.
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, recently said the president is also worried divorce could be problematic for children of divorced couples.
“He said the children would be pitiful if there will be divorce,” Roque said.
This isn’t a new position. Before being elected president, Duterte said, “I’m not in favor of divorce for the sake of the children… In legal separation, there’s still hope for the husband and wife to come together but not in divorce.”
While divorce has been illegal in the Philippines, couples have had the option of annulments. But these are often a time consuming and costly process that requires participants to testify in court to prove their marriage was invalid to begin with.
Duterte himself used an annulment to end his previous marriage to Sarah Zimmerman.
The new law faces immense opposition
Congressman Elpidio Barzaga Jr. has said that divorce would weaken society as a whole.
“To have a strong nation we must have a strong society, which depends on a strong family,” he said. “Marriage is not merely a personal contract between husband and wife, it is a social institution which public policy cherishes and protects.”
The Catholic Church has also come out against the state’s attempts to “break the marriage bond.”
“There is also damage to the children — studies have shown in general that they fare worst in life, in their studies and relationships,” Bishop Teodoro C. Bacani Jr. has said without providing evidence.
But despite a lack of support from the Catholic Church on same-sex marriage, Duterte has shown he can be swayed.
“Why impose a morality that is no longer working and almost passed?” Duterte told an LGBT crowd in December.