RCFEMay 7, 2015 WHEN divorce was legalised in Italy in 1970, it followed a titanic parliamentary battle. Unwilling to accept defeat, conservative Catholics secured a referendum. Only after that vote finally went against them four years later was the issue settled. So it is a sign of changed times that, when Italian deputies voted to liberalise the divorce laws recently, they did so by a crushing majority (398 to 28) and amid little controversy.

Avvenire, a newspaper owned by the Catholic church, predictably railed against the reform. Other critics termed it another blow to an institution fast losing its appeal in Italy. More and more young Italians opt for cohabitation and have children outside marriage. In 2012 the number of marriages per 1,000 inhabitants was the fifth-lowest in the European Union. Yet even observant Catholics were not united in opposition. Domenico Sigalini, archbishop of Palestrina, said that “if the breakdown [of a marriage] is clear and irrevocable, it’s unfair to waste time on long judicial battles.”

Couples can untie the knot after 12 months of separation if the divorce is contested, or six months if it is not. Previously a three-year separation was needed. This is not particularly permissive: at least six other EU countries allow divorce without any separation period. Some critics felt the reform could have been more radical, but amending it might have endangered its passage through parliament, states the The Economist

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