On Monday, the lower house of the Philippines Congress passed a law which would legalize divorce in the predominantly Catholic country.

The “Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines” Act passed by a vote of 134-57.

The Philippines and Vatican City are the only countries in the world that do not allow divorce – although Muslims in the southern Philippines can divorce, since they are allowed to follow Islamic family law.

The law is opposed by the nation’s Catholic bishops, who issued a statement on March 13 saying legislators should consider the “social costs” of allowing divorce in the country.

“Even couples in seemingly successful marriages would often look back and recall the countless challenges that had almost brought their relationship to a breaking point if they had not learned to transcend personal hurts through understanding and forgiveness, or sometimes through the intervention of a dialogue facilitator such as a marriage counselor,” the bishops’ statement said.

“In a context in which divorce is presented as an easy option, marriages and families are bound to break up more easily. More children will grow up disoriented and deprived of the care of both parents.”

The concern about children has motivated an unlikely ally in the fight against divorce in the country: President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte’s spokesperson said on March 19 that the president was opposed to divorce because it would be bad for children and limit the legal rights of abandoned spouses.

Duterte has often clashed with the bishops over his violent campaign against the drug trade and his efforts to reinstate capital punishment in the country.

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The bishops pointed out the Philippines allows for both civil and Church annulments, saying “they are provisions that demonstrate how seriously we take marriage as an institution, such that we make room for the possibility that some marriages might have been null and void from the start, such as when couples enter into marriage not for love, but for family pressure, and for many other similar reasons that suggest that no valid marriage took place.”

The Philippines also has a “legal separation” law, which is similar to divorce, except it does not give the spouses the right to remarry.

The proposed law lists several grounds for divorce, including:

  • One of the spouses undergoes a gender reassignment surgery
  • The reasons listed to currently allow for a legal separation and annulment
  • Separation of spouses for at least five years
  • Legal separation by judicial decree for at least two years
  • Psychological incapacity
  • Irreconcilable marital differences

The proposal must now be passed by the Senate, where several members have already stated their opposition. Even if passed by the upper house, the bill could still be vetoed by Duterte.

In their statement, the bishops said they “wish to assert that nothing, not even a divorce law can make us give up our faith in the indissolubility of marriage as a lifetime covenant between a man and woman who have freely said yes to the call to love and commit themselves to God and to each other, through thick and thin.”