Brazil Opts for Divorce
ON December 26, 1977, Law No. 6515 made Brazil leave the dwindling group of nations that do not allow divorce on any basis. The Senate already had approved a constitutional amendment. But now the moment of rejoicing had arrived for the divorcistas. On the other hand, it was a moment of defeat for the antidivorcistas.
But why did some object? Also, what is the Bible’s view on the matter of divorce? Consider the following answers.
Objections to Divorce
The Brazil Herald put its finger on the leaders of the opposition, declaring that Brazil is “the largest predominantly Catholic country in the world,” and stating: “Church opposition has been strident. Dom Ivo Lorscheiter, head of the Brazilian Bishops Association, . . . said that [the] church would continue its opposition to divorce.”
No wonder the 1977 Corpus Christi processions in Brazil turned into manifestations against the divorce bill! In Belo Horizonte about 100,000 persons met in a huge football stadium. Fifteen thousand gathered in Curitiba, and some 10,000 in Rio de Janeiro. But, bearing in mind that these cities are teeming with millions of nominal Catholics, the very turnout was a sign of failure. A popular magazine summed up the campaign by stating that “the Church pitched her whole weight and prestige against divorce . . . and lost.”
Also, the press showed up some of the faults in the arguments against divorce. Said an editorial in O Estado de S. Paulo: “Although we sincerely regret the breakup of the family institution, we hold that the temporal State which rules a spiritually pluralist society such as the Brazilian is not entitled to impose . . . on all citizens, even non-Catholics, agnostics, atheists, Protestants and non-practicing Catholics, a matrimonial legislation of but one religion.” Referring to the situation before legal divorce was introduced, this newspaper called the “multiple and pharisaical forms of divorce among us, a source of social chaos.” Previously, it was customary for married couples to separate, often without obtaining a legal separation, and to go on living with other partners, thus, in fact, creating two families without legal recognition. But what about the objections raised by the Catholic Church?
The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops came out with the statement that “whoever defends or practices divorce puts himself in opposition to the divine orientation and cuts his communion with the [Catholic] Church.” Reference was made to these words of Jesus Christ: “Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined.” (Matt. 19:6, The New American Bible) Hence, the church leaders objected to the dissolubility of the marriage bond, while closing their eyes to widespread concubinage and immorality. But did Jesus mean that all divorce is improper?
The Bible, Marriage and Divorce
Let it be stated that the Bible does not advocate divorce on just any grounds. God made man and woman to enjoy each other’s company indefinitely, without any provision for divorce. “That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) After sinful man lost his position as God’s son and was put outside the Garden of Eden, he began to introduce his own regulations and traditions. The Mosaic law recognized existing patriarchal marriage customs, but regulated wedlock and divorce. Nevertheless, the prophet Malachi presented this as God’s viewpoint: “He has hated a divorcing.” (Mal. 2:16) Then Jesus Christ reemphasized the validity of the original marriage arrangement, as recorded by historian Matthew in Matthew 19:3-9.
According to The New American Bible (in a rendering similar to that of other Catholic versions), Matthew 19:9 reads: “I now say to you, whoever divorces his wife (lewd conduct is a separate case) and marries another commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” A footnote explains the words in parentheses, stating: “Literally ‘except for porneia,’ i.e., immorality, fornication, even incest.” But theologian-priest Alcides Pinto da Silva reiterated the common Roman Catholic interpretation, saying: “If after the contract, but before living together with her husband, a girl has illicit relations with someone, then she can be sent away without there being adultery.”
Of course, Jesus did not say that this was the only situation meant; nor does the context contain implication to this effect. The Jews permitted divorce, the sending away of a marriage mate on any grounds. However, Jesus stated that ‘only on the ground of por·neiʹa’ could this be done acceptably before God, who instituted marriage. So, what does por·neiʹa mean? It designates all forms of immoral sexual relations, perversions and lewd practices. The verb por·neuʹo means “to give one’s self to unlawful sexual intercourse.”
Jesus was against adultery and any other form of illicit relations. (Matt. 5:27-32; 15:19, 20) But if one marriage mate committed a gross sexual sin against the other, the marriage bond could be broken because of the adulterating of the union of ‘one flesh.’ Therefore, marital unfaithfulness could result in dissolving the marriage vows, union and contract. For this reason, the innocent and wronged mate would be free to get a divorce and marry again. Of course, he or she might want to forgive the erring mate and maintain the marriage bond. That would be his or her privilege.
Brazil’s New Law on Divorce
However, none of these Scriptural considerations moved the Brazilian legislators to pass their new law on divorce. In fact, ever since the establishment of the republic, in 1889, Brazil recognizes only civil marriage. Nevertheless, for many years, the Catholic Church’s powerful influence blocked the introduction of the divorce law. Liberal-minded men, like divorcista leader and Senator Nelson Carneiro, spent 20 years or more fighting for the new law. How is it applied?
Legal separation, either by mutual consent or through litigation, is required before divorce is granted. An application for divorce may be filed three years after obtaining a legal separation. The divorce will be granted within 10 days, if it is not contested. For cases pending when the law was introduced, divorce can be granted if the couple can prove that they have been separated de facto for at least five years. On the other hand, a legal separation will be granted only to those who have been married for more than two years. Moreover, divorce is granted just once in a lifetime. Since the clause covering the latter point is ambiguous and, some say, unconstitutional, it is being contested.
The Christian’s Position
No doubt this new law on divorce in Brazil will help persons interested in living according to God’s standards as set out in the Bible. It will enable them to straighten out their marital affairs before God and “Caesar,” or the governmental authorities. (Matt. 22:21) It will also permit those whose mates become unfaithful to get a divorce and marry again honorably, if they wish to do so. As already shown, marital unfaithfulness is the only Biblical grounds for such action.—Matt. 5:32; 19:9.
However, rather than encouraging divorce and the splitting up of homes and families, the Bible is the only book on earth that points out thoroughly how to avoid this extreme. It offers sober counsel and clear direction for those who wish to enter into marriage, to keep it honorable and to make it successful. (Eph. 5:21-33) The Bible, therefore, is the only reliable guide to true marital harmony and happy family life.