LANDMARK BILL PASSED
Converts must now dissolve their marriages in civil courts
THE Dewan Rakyat passed the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017 (LRA) early yesterday after more than four hours of heated debates. The LRA, initially withdrawn, then later presented as a fresh bill, was passed at 12.45am. Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, says it is the first step towards resolving cases of dissolution of marriage where one party has converted to Islam.
THE Dewan Rakyat had to “stop the clock” late on Wednesday night to continue debating the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017 (LRA) before it was eventually passed early yesterday.
The LRA, initially withdrawn and later presented as a fresh bill, was passed at 12.45am after more than four hours of heated debate.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said the passing of the bill was the first step towards resolving cases of dissolution of marriage where one party had converted to Islam. The amendments include the passing of Section 51, which mandates that the divorcing couple must have their marriage dissolved in a civil court.
During the debate, DAP’s Ipoh Barat member of parliament M. Kula Segaran urged the government to re-insert Clause 88A into the bill.
He insisted that Clause 88A, which was removed on Monday, was not against the Federal Constitution.
“Saying that it (Clause 88A) is against the Constitution is all a lie,” the lawyer said.
Clause 88A states that the religion of a child which is a product of the marriage “shall remain as the religion of the parties to the marriage prior to the conversion”.
The clause also provides that the child can, after turning 18 and with the consent of both parents, convert to Islam.
While delivering his argument, Kula accused the government of failing to “keep its promise made in 2009”.
Azalina, however, explained that Clause 88A would not solve the issue, and more in-depth discussions were needed in order to find a more comprehensive solution.
“I don’t believe Section 88A would solve the conversion issue. This needs further and deeper discussions. But this does not mean it is the end of the story.”
Pas Kuala Nerus MP Datuk Dr Khairuddin Aman Razali had argued that the proposed amendments to the LRA contradicted the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territory) Act 1984.
To this, Azalina called upon Muslim converts not to “hide behind syariah court judges” in the name of Islam, but to divorce their spouses responsibly in the civil court.
She stressed that the amendments were not aimed at undermining the powers of the Syariah Courts, but to make sure a Muslim convert fulfills his or her obligations to the family.
“If you are a real man, then (carry out the) divorce properly. Why do you want to be afraid? You can’t run and hide behind the syariah court judge.
“What about the wife, children and other matters?”
Azalina said while she understood Khairuddin’s point of view, converted men should not be allowed to leave their families in a lurch, adding that it was wrong to convert to Islam and shirk their responsibilities, such as paying alimony.
“Yes, he’s Muslim. But should he just leave his family hanging? I am not married, but even I am angry.
“You get married then you convert, and then you run away from your responsibilities, don’t want to pay alimony after converting. Islam is a responsible religion.”
She gave an assurance that the amendments did not dent a convert’s rights under Islamic law but encouraged him to be a gentleman and settle his responsibilities well.
Pas had tried to force a bloc vote to stop the amendment from being passed, but the party’s attempt failed as it did not have the required 15 MPs for Parliament to support such a move.
It was finally passed through a voice vote.
Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said