Mark Anthony Falzon: Why I will be voting Yes on Saturday.
Dr. Mark-Anthony Falzon is a social anthropologist, Head of Department of Sociology at the University of Malta, and “Sunday Times” columnist.
The reasons that follow are based on and take into account the following premises:
1. It is true that society needs to regulate for long-term kinship. This is primarily because of three things. First, kinship is associated with strong emotional bonds of attachment and commitment; second, children’s interests are best served by structures of kinship that are as transparent, stable, and long-lived as possible; and third, because of issues of property and reproduction of the domestic unit;
2. like all generalisations, the ‘common good’ argument has its risks. It is however mostly useful. It is true that voters should take into account the long-term consequences, for ‘society’ generally and not just for themselves, of their decisions;
3. a ‘realist’ approach. By which I mean not resignation or passive acceptance of undesirable things, but rather the balanced assessment of facts and the discarding of rhetoric;
4. whether or not one agrees that this issue should have escalated into a referendum, and irrespective of one’s thoughts about the obsoleteness of the question, it is one’s responsibility to vote. Politics is not about what could/should be but rather about what is. Come Saturday, the real and current question will be whether or not one thinks that Malta should legislate for divorce;
5. a belief that a fair and forward-looking society should be based on laws and structures that seek as far as possible to include rather than exclude. Social inclusion produces emotional, economic, and many other dividends.
In view of these premises I will be voting Yes on Saturday:
1. because couples whose relationships are over will split anyway, it makes sense to have strong legal systems and other structures by which these splits are properly regulated;
2. because the ‘common good’ dictates that (1) above is especially relevant when there are children, ie. that it is in the long-term interest of children whose parents’ marriages are over that their parents should split in a responsible and regulated way;
3. because a realist approach tells me that some couples will be happy for the rest of their lives and others won’t. The idea that marital bliss can be extended to everyone, and that it is possible in principle for all marriages to work, is rhetorical nonsense;
4. because I know that all the rhetoric and vague promises of ‘strengthening families’ that we have heard in these past months will be all but forgotten by Monday morning, and that couples whose marital lives are over will be left to struggle to pick up the pieces in the absence of structures and legal frameworks, as they have been condemned to do so far;
5. because I believe that it is in the interests of society that people should not be forced to go through annulment proceedings using far-flung excuses and shifty arguments, as they have done so far. This humiliates the individual and makes a mockery of justice and institutions. Such institutionalised hypocrisy and cynicism invariably spill over into the social order broadly defined;
6. because it is patent nonsense that divorce has ruined societies ‘everywhere’. The family is still very highly prized in countries where divorce is legal, and people go to enormous lengths and expense to sustain it. The notion of ‘ruined societies’ is simply another form of the little islander’s fear and incomprehension of the outside world;
7. because the ‘stable traditional families of old’ are a myth. In fact there have always been couples, significant numbers of them, who did not fit the model. It was simply a case of ignoring or labelling them as deviants and misfits, and creating poverty and social exclusion as a direct consequence. It is absolutely essential to understand that we will not be voting to regulate for a ‘new reality’. Rather, it’s a case of a fairer approach to the age-old reality of marriage breakdown;
8. because a truly pluralist society is not about privileging one model and letting everyone else do as they please, but rather about legislating sensitively to incorporate as many realities as possible. This, and not greener roundabouts and nicer roads, is the EU I and thousands of others voted for in 2003;
9. because the notion of family and kinship should be based on responsibility and integrity. There is much more of these in owning up to a marital breakup and taking long-term responsibility for one’s failings. This is especially true when children are involved;
10. because all around me I see people who, despite a failed marriage, go to enormous lengths to sustain and love their children. I also see ex-spouses who somehow find it in their hearts to accept new situations. These people, thousands of them, do not deserve a slap in the face but rather encouragement and the proper structures to sustain kinship and respect well beyond the duration of their failed marriage.