VALLETTA, July 27, 2011 ( – The parliament of the officially Catholic island country of Malta voted on Monday to legalize divorce, following a May referendum that saw 53% of voters approve of divorce legislation.

Malta was the only EU member-state that did not allow divorce, now leaving the Philippines and Vatican City as the two remaining countries in the world where divorce is illegal.

The measure was passed by the country’s parliament in a 52 to 11 vote with five abstentions.

Although MPs of the ruling Nationalist Party were allowed to vote according to their conscience, the results came as a blow to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who had opposed divorce ahead of the referendum; he had voted against the measure. Nineteen of the 35 Nationalist Party legislators voted in favor of the measure.

It was reported, however, that Gonzi, while not pleased with the result of the vote, acknowledged that amendments to the legislation, which now allows couples who have lived separately for at least four years to file for a divorce, makes it more acceptable than was its original form.

The Catholic Bishops of Malta had urged citizens to vote “no” in the divorce referendum, maintaining that divorce was the “wrong solution” to marital problems.

“A choice in favor of divorce,” wrote the bishops in a pastoral letter in May, “leads to the further destruction of marriage and the family and, as a consequence, the destruction of values and the quality of life.”

Malta, with a population of 410,000, has recognized divorces that were obtained by Maltese couples abroad for about thirty years. Statistics show that approximately 785 Maltese couples have obtained divorces out of the country during this time.

The new legislation is expected to come into effect in October after President George Abela signs it into law.