Overwhelmingly Catholic Malta has voted to legalise divorce, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi announced Sunday, after votes were counted following a non-binding referendum the day before.
Gonzi, who campaigned against the introduction of divorce in the last European country where it is illegal, said it was now up the parliament to enact a law legalising the dissolution of marriage.
"This is not the result that I wished for, but the will of the people has to be respected and parliament should enact a law for the introduction of divorce," the prime minister said.
Malta is one of only two countries in the world -- the Philippines is the other -- that bans divorce. Chile was the last country to legalise divorce in 2004 after overwhelming public pressure.
Saturday's non-binding referendum asked the island's 306,000 mainly Catholic voters whether parliament should introduce a new law that would allow couples to obtain a divorce after four years of separation.
Legal separation is widespread in the European Union's smallest member state, but people find it hard to re-marry.