Maltese divorce referendum, 2011

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A referendum on divorce was held in Malta on 28 May 2011. Voters were asked whether they approved of a new law to introduce allow divorces, as at that time, Malta was one of only three countries in the world (along with the Philippines and the Vatican City)[1] in which divorce was not permitted.[2] The proposal was approved by 53% of voters, resulting in a law allowing divorce under certain conditions being enacted later in the year.


A private member's bill was tabled in the House of Representatives by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, a Nationalist Member of Parliament.[3] The text of the bill, which had been changed twice, did not provide for the holding of a referendum. This was eventually provided for through a separate Parliamentary resolution under the Referenda Act authorising a facultative, non-binding referendum to be held.

The Catholic Church in Malta encouraged a "no" vote through a pastoral letter issued on the Sunday before the referendum day.[4] Complaints were made that religious pressure was being brought to bear upon voters.[5] Around 8 per cent of marriages in Malta are already annulled by the Catholic Church.[5]


Ballot papers had both English and Maltese questions printed on them. The English version of the question put to voters was as follows:

Do you agree with the introduction of the option of divorce in the case of a married couple who has been separated or has been living apart for at least four (4) years, and where there is no reasonable hope for reconciliation between the spouses, whilst adequate maintenance is guaranteed and the children are protected?[6]

The Maltese version was:

Taqbel mal-introduzzjoni tal-għażla tad-divorzju f’każ ta’ koppja miżżewġa li tkun ilha separata jew tkun ilha ma tgħix flimkien għal mill-anqas erba’ (4) snin, u meta ma jkun hemm l-ebda tama raġjonevoli ta’ rikonċiljazzjoni bejn il-miżżewġin, filwaqt li jkun garantit manteniment adegwat u jkunu mħarsa t-tfal?

The question, which resembled the proposal approved by Irish voters in the Irish divorce referendum of 1995, was somewhat controversial. It was claimed that it did not reflect the content of the private member's bill.[7]


Choice Votes %
For 122,547 53.16
Against 107,971 46.84
Invalid/blank votes 2,173
Total 232,691 100
Registered voters/turnout 325,102 71.57
Source: Department of Information

Although for the referendum the whole country was considered as a single constituency, taking into account electoral districts, only three out of thirteen voted "no" to the referendum question.[1]


Discussion on the divorce bill started in earnest soon after the result was announced. In the second and third readings a number of MPs still voted against the bill. Parliament approved the law on 25 July. The law came into effect on 1 October.[8]

See also[edit]