MEXICO CITY — The Roman Catholic Church reacted harshly Friday to a bill proposed by Mexico City legislators that would require all couples to sign a prenuptial agreement specifying how to handle child custody and other issues in case of divorce – and estimating how long the marriage is expected to last.
Sponsors of the bill submitted this week in the city council say the proposal aims to cut down on the lengthy, nasty divorce proceedings choking the capital district's courts, by making potential couples decide about monetary and custody issues by mutual agreement before they get married.
But the bill also says "the duration of the marriage will be bound by the terms that the couple negotiate in the familial agreement, which shall not be less than two years."
Asking a prospective bride to calculate the date of her eventual divorce might seem like throwing a bucket of cold water, instead of a bouquet, at civil marriage proceedings.
But Carlos Torres, spokesman for legislator Lizbeth Rosas, one of the bill's sponsors, said that shouldn't be the case.
"People can specify terms of 99 years, or 'til death do us part,' if they think the marriage, or their lives, are going to last that long," Torres said.
Catholic leaders don't see it that way.
Asking couples to put a "sell-by" date on wedding vows is "totally absurd," said the Rev. Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Catholic archdiocese for the capital region.
"This is a proposal made by people who do not understand the nature of marriage," Valdemar said. "It is not a commercial contract; it is a contract between two people for a life project, and the creation of a family."
"This denigrates the concept of the family ... and makes it more like a pact between friends," he said.
Torres, who prefers to call the agreements "renewable marriage" contracts, said there were about 40 divorces for every 100 marriages in 2009-10, according to the most recent figures from Mexico City marriage registries.
"We are looking for solutions to problems that are seen every day in family courts ... in which there is emotional blackmail, or the children are used as pawns," Torres said. "This would cut down of the torturous proceedings at the time of a divorce."
The bill is meant to solve a big problem in the city of 8.9 million people, where divorce proceedings are so costly, painful and time consuming that many people just skip them and start a new family.
"After 20 years, they haven't gotten their legal situation settled, and a lot of times they just start a new family without having gotten a divorce," which can complicate inheritance, child support and other questions, Torres said.
The law, which was sent to a city council committee for study, would also require couples to take classes about the practical aspects of marriage before tying the knot.
The proposal would also allow couples commit to which religion, if any, their children would be raised in, Torres notes.
That provision didn't satisfy the church, which has locked horns before with Rosas' leftist Democratic Revolution Party, the PRD, over the party's decisions to legalize gay marriage and abortion in Mexico City.
"This is just another of these proposals by the PRD, which is a deeply irresponsible party," Valdemar said. "In order to appear fashionable ... they are destroying the family and values."