Malta is the only country that still outlaws divorce. Malta is planning to hold a referendum on May 28 on introducing a law to allow divorce.
A majority of citizens of the tiny Mediterranean island -- the smallest member of the European Union -- are staunchly religious Roman Catholics.
Maltese will be asked whether they favour allowing divorce following four years of marital separation, with the Church fiercely opposed to the change.
The referendum does not have legal weight and a new law would be required.
"Divorce has to be treated rationally and not on some religious dogma," opposition Labour party leader Joseph Muscat told lawmakers before a vote in parliament on the referendum in which the government was defeated.
"This question has got nothing to do with modelling ourselves on other countries or because we are the only country apart from the Philippines not to have divorce," Muscat said.
"I want to live in a European country and that does not mean flying to Brussels or passing through the EU citizens' lane at airports. It means having a set of European values," he said.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had declared his opposition to divorce but he gave MPs from his Nationalist Party a free vote and was defeated in parliament.