Why the Philippines is the only country where divorce is illegal

Feb 13, 2020

“YOU HAVE to lose before you can win,” explains Jesus Falcis. He is referring to the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss, on procedural grounds, a petition he filed in 2015 challenging a law which proclaims that marriage can occur only between a man and a woman. Mr Falcis finds a silver lining in the fact that the judges did not see any obvious constitutional impediment to same-sex marriage. But he has little doubt that the effort to secure it will take decades, just as it did in rich countries.

Even by the standards of former Spanish colonies, the Philippines has extremely socially conservative laws. It is the only country in world, bar the Vatican City, to outlaw divorce (except for Muslims). The only way of ending a marriage, short of dying, is to have it annulled, but that can be done only on narrow grounds and at great expense. Abortion is illegal, too, and anyone undergoing or performing one risks up to six years in prison. Contraceptives, although not banned, are the subject of fierce legal battles, as opponents try to prevent the state from distributing them.

This is not simply a legacy of colonialism or a reflection of Filipinos’ piety. Compared with Mexico, say, another country long ruled by Spain where four-fifths of the population considers itself Catholic, the Philippines is uptight. A constitutional...


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