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Chile set to legalize divorce

Despite strong Catholic Church opposition and after nine years of debate, Chile’s lower house lifted ban on divorce.
President Lagos is expected to quicklysign the bill into law as it has already been passed by the Senate.
 
Chilean Roman Catholic Church and conservative groups suffered a serious defeat last week, as Nation’s lower house passed a bill allowing divorce on civil marriage. As the bill had been already approved by the Senate, President Ricardo Lagos may turn it into law this month, as expected.

Together with Malta, Chile is the only western country without a divorce law. The lower chamber passed the new law 70-13, despite a strong media campaign headed by the powerful and ultra-conservative Roman Catholic Church. Now, the law is to go into effect within six months, allowing time for judges to study it and family courts to be set up to hear divorce cases.

''I feel we have paid a debt with Chile's society,'' socialist congressman Marнa Antonieta Saa, a proponent of the law, said after the vote. “Now we are giving Chileans the right to rebuild their lives'. However, right-wing congressmen remained very critical on the new law and blamed on the Catholic Church on lack of pressure over their legislators to oppose.

The Catholic Church, reacted with resignation: ''It's hard to feel disappointed for something that we saw was coming,'' Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz said. “This is not what we expected for Chile. We wanted something that would strengthen the family, and this poses a huge challenge to our pastoral work.”, he said, in acountry where 87% of the people consider themselves as catholic.

Quoting amazing researches, the Church campaigned on TV to discourage the civil society. They say the new bill would eventually increase in psychological problems for children, as "prostitution", "homosexuality" and "drug use", as could lead to more violence in such families. Also, it became known that hierarchy has been lobbying members of Congress, especially those from the center-right Christian Democratic Party, and hinting about excommunication.

As legislators voted article by article, a small group of members of a conservative group called Family Action demonstrated peacefully in the stands, deploying a sign reading "Divorce Impoverishes Women.'' House Speaker Isabel Allende dismissed criticism of the law. ''People do not divorce because there is divorce law; they divorce because their love has ended,'' Allende said.

Today, If a couple wants to divorce, Chile's legislation allows civil annulment, which requires both parts to say that their marriage was against the law. So, they have to lie before the courts saying, for instance, that neither of them lived in the jurisdiction where they wed. Also, some women abandoned by their husbands appear before the Judge asking to be considered widow.

Divorce in Latin America has been always a controversial issue, since the region has suffered from far right-wing military regimes during large periods of time in the XX Century. So, the region has a poor record, despite the existence of a strong feminist movement at the beginning of the 1900's. As such there are countries, where divorce laws were passed early last Century -Uruguay, 1913; Cuba, 1918-, and some others where the legislation that brings family relations into modern times, had to wait more. That is the case of Argentina that only obtained the law in 1986, after its return to democracy.

Hernan Etchaleco