The last country in the world to completely outlaw divorce is the Philippines. Now, however, a new bill, House Bill 6027, is threatening the sanctity of marriage and family life by introducing divorce in a predominantly Catholic country (86%), seeking to permit divorce in the broad and undefined cases of “irreconcilable differences” or “severe and chronic unhappiness.” This is but the latest attempt by anti-family legislators to sponsor a divorce bill, the last being in 2016.
The bill is being sponsored by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who is himself separated from his wife and in a relationship with another woman, and who has reportedly fathered eight children with different women. Mr. Alvarez is not alone in his assault against marriage and family life. He is joined by fifteen members of the Philippine government who co-authored the legislation.
To many people in the West it must seem like this is a news story from a far-off, more backwards time. Surely – some would say – in the 21st century we’re past letting the government restrict grown adults from making decisions about their own “private” love lives.
And yet, though this attitude is far too common now, it is truly astonishing to think how recent the invention of no-fault divorce even is, and how recently the vast majority of people understood that divorcing one’s spouse was not only morally wrong, but socially destructive, impacting not just the couple choosing to divorce, but the entire social fabric.
Governments understood this too. Until only a few decades ago, most nations in the West either completely outlawed divorce, or placed severe restrictions upon circumstances in which a divorce might be obtained. In America, the first no-fault divorce law was passed in 1969, in California.
Surveying the catastrophic impact no-fault divorce has had upon marriage, children, and society, it sometimes seems that the strangest thing about the modern world’s brief and disastrous dalliance with divorce is the lack of proportion between the extent to which the worst predictions of those who opposed divorce have come true, and the widespread apathy in relation to the issue.
Even the Christian churches have made a troubled peace with a practice that can in no way be reconciled with Christ’s forceful and unmistakable words on the permanence of marriage. Most denominations now either outright endorse divorce, or, at best, avoid talking about it, for fear of “offending or driving away the faithful.”
The Catholic Church, however, has continued to stand firm, acting – at least in Her formal teaching – as a true voice crying out in the wilderness. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states:
“Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery.” (CCC, ¶ 2384)
The Catechism adds: “Divorce is immoral … because it introduces disorder into the family. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse [and] to children traumatized by the separation of their parents.” (CCC, ¶ 2385)
Those who defend no-fault divorce by saying – as former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once did while attempting to liberalize the law regarding sexual matters – that “there’s no place for the State in the bedrooms of the nation,” need to be shown the pernicious lie behind his pithy statement. Namely, that what happens in the bedroom is clearly not just a “private” matter between two consenting adults. It is, in one sense, the most public of all acts – the procreation of children, the building of families, the genesis of generations.
In most of the West, divorce has become pervasive, with as many as 30-50% all marriages (depending on how it’s calculated) ending in divorce – that’s assuming that the couple bothers even to get married in the first place, choosing instead to cohabitate (simulate married life). As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the impact this behavior has had on children is catastrophic.
Indeed, those who persist in their belief that divorce is a fundamentally “harmless” choice between consenting adults need only spend a few minutes talking to the children of couple’s who divorced. While their feelings may be complex, especially if their parents’ marriage was especially troubled, many will (if they are being honest) confess to profound feelings of abandonment, uncertainty, and anxiety following the divorce, as the entire supporting framework of their lives is pulled out from beneath them. Often they are then thrown into an uncertain, nomadic life: being shuffled from one parent to another, while – to add insult to injury – being asked to accept and feel affectionate towards their parents’ new partners.
For many children, this is devastating.
This is far from pure speculation. Study after study has shown that divorce is one of the worst things that can happen to a child. In fact, one Irish study found that the sense of loss that children experience after a divorce is worse than if one of their parents had died. That might sound counter-intuitive, but it actually makes sense because in one case the parent’s departure, while tragic, is involuntary, while in the other case, the parent chose to leave their child.
Another article in The Week lists nine negative impacts that science has shown divorce has on children, including: significantly higher incidences of smoking and Ritalin use, poor math skills, susceptibility to illness, increased likelihood of dropping out of school and engaging in criminal behavior, to list just a few.
But perhaps one of the most revealing, and troubling, is the eighth on the list: that children of divorce are up to twice as likely to get divorced, or, if both spouses are children of divorce, up to three times as likely to divorce. In other words, a couple’s choice to divorce not only affects their marriage, but the marriages of their children – potentially for generations.
Yes, there are cases – for instance of serious abuse – where it is necessary for couples to separate for the good of one or more of the spouses, and for children. Catholic ecclesial law (Canon Law) clearly provides for those cases. But that is not what we are talking about here.
Divorce simply is not the answer for couples having difficulties. There are options that would better serve a married couple, their family, and society. Rather than making it convenient for couples to take the “easy way out,” governments should, instead, be supporting the common good by finding solutions to support couples to strengthen their marriages.
Governments could partner with the Catholic Church and other faith communities with a vested interest. Together, they could create Marriage/Family Life Support centers, which could offer counsel to couples and families, helping them to remain together – building a stronger and healthier marriage and family life; after all, society has everything to gain in the protection of marriage, which is meant to be exclusive, fruitful, and indissoluble.
The Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) has completed a massive study entitled the Mapping America Project, which is based on the USA’s National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). MARRI has found that the people who are happiest have three characteristics: They are religious, they come from an intact family, and they are married.
Fortunately, many Filipinos are fighting back against this current affront against marriage and family life. Rene Josef Bullecer, M.D., Country Director for Human Life International (HLI) in the Philippines, is among Catholic leaders greatly concerned by the development. He has been meeting with the National, Regional and Local Councils of the Laity and granting media interviews to try and stop the threat – bringing greater awareness. Quoted in Cebu News, Dr. Bullecer said: “Let’s not wait for this bill to become law before we take actions against it.”
Please pray for Dr. Bullecer and other Filipino Catholic and family leaders as they wage battle against this proposed anti-family legislation. May they be successful!