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Tired, flawed arguments against divorce

LIKE clockwork, opponents of the absolute divorce bill, led by the clergy, have come out in force, raising the same tired arguments against a measure that every other country in the world already has.

The bishops, and the politicians who seek their benediction, say a divorce law would weaken the fabric of society by eroding the foundation of the family unit.

A father blows bubbles to his daughter who tries to catch them at the Luneta Park in Manila on Saturday, July 22, 2023, a day before National Parents’ Day. The event this Sunday, July 23, aims to promote responsible parenting. National Parents’ Day is observed on the fourth Sunday of July.PHOTOS BY RENE H. DILAN

We are offered no proof, of course, that this would happen. In fact, countries that were late to approve a divorce law did not experience the feared flood of divorce cases. For example, after Malta became the last European country to pass a divorce law in 2011, Eurostat data showed that it has one of the lowest divorce rates — 0.9 divorces per 1,000 persons — in the European Union. The availability of divorce in another predominantly Catholic country, Ireland, since 1977 did not bring about the dire predictions of a massive breakdown in families. In fact, Ireland has the second-lowest divorce rate in the EU, with 0.6 divorces per 1,000 persons, compared to the European average of 1.6 per 1,000.

Real-world statistics aside, dire warnings of family breakdowns are a searing indictment of what little faith and confidence these opponents of a divorce law have in their religious instruction and the strength of existing marriages. How strong, after all, is the foundation of society if these clerics believe that couples would seek divorce en masse if given the choice?

The bishops say a society that values strong, stable families is a thriving society, ignoring the reality of thriving societies outside the Philippines where divorce is legal.

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Reacting to the passage of a divorce bill in the House of Representatives, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas maintained that “marriage should be entered into only by those mature enough for a lifetime of consecration and fidelity in wedded life.”

“To criticize this as an unreasonable demand is to cast a slur on the hundreds, thousands even, of couples in the Philippines who have remained true to the promises of their wedding day,” he said.

“They are the tangible proof that such fidelity is possible. They are the empirical evidence that personality differences notwithstanding, difficulties are not impossible to overcome, as long as a couple does not give up on love,” he added.

Again, the archbishop's statement is marred by flawed logic. A divorce law is not “a slur” on couples who have remained true to the promises made on their wedding day any more than chemotherapy is a slur on the hundreds or thousands of people who never get cancer.

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We do not doubt the existence of couples who overcome their personality differences to stay together by never giving up on love. We do recognize, however, that not every couple is so blessed that, in some instances, these “personality differences” become abusive, destructive, and dangerous. Where is the moral agency in prolonging a relationship where one or both parties represent a physical danger to each other?

The archbishop also says the Catholic Church urges that those intending to contract marriage “discern with maturity their preparedness for the duties marriage imposes on them, and not treat it as some provisional arrangement that can be conveniently set aside when it so suits them.” This may well be, but we ask the archbishop if this always is the case, and what are we to do with those who were immature but got married, anyway?

Finally, the archbishop suggests people with marital problems go to a family life apostolate that can be found in every diocese and parish, which offers counseling and companionship. This is all well and good, but what are we to do with couples who try counseling and are still unable to live together in peace afterward?

Divorce, as one of the proponents of the latest bill points out, is not for everyone. Certainly, it is not for the thousands of happily married couples who stay true to their wedding vows. It is, however, for people trapped in an abusive and loveless marriage that no amount of counseling will save.

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If the priests and the bishops do not acknowledge this as part of the reality of our world today, we must question their qualifications for telling us what solutions we may or may not take. Then again, it is stupefying how we, as a nation, continue to let a class of people who have no firsthand knowledge of sex and marriage dictate how we deal with both in our lives and in our laws.

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