Catholic protestors carry signs at a "march for life" to oppose a bill legalizing divorce in Manila, Philippines on Feb. 24, 2018.
Ted Aljibe—AFP/Getty Images
March 19, 2018 11:10 PM EDT

The Philippines took its closest step yet to legalizing divorce this week, despite opposition from President Rodrigo Duterte and religious groups.

The country’s lower house of Congress voted Monday to pass a bill allowing couples to dissolve “irreparable marriages” and remarry, with 134 lawmakers voting for and 57 against, with two abstentions, Reuters reports. The only other country where divorce is illegal is the Vatican City.

Congresswoman Emmi de Jesus said the bill sought to address the “clamour of women trapped in abusive relationships,” the BBC reports.

The bill, which passed with support across the political aisle, offers Filipinos a legal alternative to annulment, which is costly and time consuming, according to the Philippines-based Rappler. President Duterte had his own marriage legally annulled before entering office. The President, however, does not support divorce, citing the welfare of children.

The Philippines is over 80% Roman Catholic, and church groups have expressed strong disapproval of the bill. Last month, approximately 2,000 protestors marched in Manila in opposition to the proposal.

But a survey conducted last year found that 53% of Filipinos supported legalizing divorce; 32% opposed.

The Philippines’ Senate will need to pass its own version of the bill in order to enact a law, but it has not yet begun to draft one, according to Reuters. If the Senate does pass a bill, President Duterte could still veto it from becoming law.

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