Parliament approved divorce legislation in a historic vote yesterday, making it possible for separated people to re-marry as from October.

With 52 in favour, 11 against and five abstentions, the divorce Bill was approved by a majority of more than two-thirds of MPs.

The Bill now needs President George Abela’s signature to become law and come into force on October 1.

In the third and final reading of the Bill amending the Civil Code, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi voted against, as he had done in the second reading.

Only three ministers were in favour. Education Minister Dolores Cristina and Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino changed their previous stand to join Health Minister Joe Cassar saying Yes to the Bill.

Mrs Cristina had voted against in the second reading while Mr Pullicino had abstained.

Parliamentary secretaries Chris Said and Mario de Marco voted aye, as they had done in the second reading.

Francis Zammit Dimech, who coordinated the PN side during the committee stage, also changed his stand and voted in favour, after having voted against in the second reading.

PN backbenchers Charlò Bonnici, Jean Pierre Farrugia, Stephen Spiteri and Ninu Zammit turned their prior abstention into an approval.

All Labour MPs, including Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, who had abstained in the second reading, cast votes in favour. A notable absence from the House was that of Adrian Vassallo, who had been the only Labour MP to oppose the Bill in the second reading.

The decision takes Malta off the list of just two countries where divorce is not allowed. The Philippines remains the only other country in the world where divorce is not legal.

In May, 53 per cent of the electorate approved divorce in a referendum after a long and arduous campaign.

Parliament’s decision comes a year after Nationalist backbencher Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando forced the issue onto the national agenda when he presented a Private Member’s Bill for the introduction of divorce based on the Irish model.

The law makes it possible for people who have been separated for four years to obtain a divorce in Malta.

Before voting in the third reading yesterday, MPs unanimously approved all the changes to the Bill drawn up by a cross-party parliamentary committee that dissected the different clauses in a laborious and lengthy process.

At committee stage only one division was called by Opposition Whip Joe Mizzi on an amendment because of its relevance to the parameters of the referendum question. In what seemed like the prelude of the final vote, 58 MPs voted in favour of the amendment, eight voted against and one abstained.

Nationalist MP Louis Deguara entered the House immediately after this vote while Mr Vassallo was absent throughout.

All other amendments breezed through in an uncharacteristically smooth sitting chaired by Speaker Michael Frendo.

After the approval in committee stage, the House adjourned for 30 minutes for what technically constituted another sitting when the third and final reading of the Bill took place.

For the vote, the clerk of the House first called out the names of those MPs who were in favour as they stood up to register their vote. She then called out the names of those who voted against and finally of those who abstained.

All legislation such as pension laws affected by divorce will have to be studied by a special committee and recommendations made by February 29. The Prime Minister is subsequently bound to approve the necessary amendments through a legal notice by June 30 of the same year. Changes will be retroactive to October 1, 2011.

When adjourning for the summer recess, Leader of the House Tonio Borg thanked the Clerk of the House and her staff for the way they rose to the occasion during a very difficult year.

Opposition deputy leader Anġlu Farrugia and the Speaker joined him in wishing fellow MPs a well-earned rest. The House will meet again on October 3.

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