Same-sex marriage: Yet another election issue?

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Not content with merely opposing same-sex marriage, newly born-again Senatorial candidate Manny Pacquiao recently set off a media firestorm with a zealous homily intended to prove that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) persons were “worse than animals.” He also tweeted—and subsequently deleted—strictures from the wrathful God of the Old Testament that homosexual partners should be stoned to death, prompting his more mature fellow boxing champ, Nonito Donaire, to offer him some advice in scriptural interpretation.

In some ways, it seems strange to be getting theological and legislative consul from two Protestant boxers, but when we consider that churches like Iglesia ni Cristo—to say nothing of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)—routinely feel called upon to advance legislative agendas of their own, perhaps it isn’t so strange after all. One thing is for sure: in an election year, politicians, both incumbent and aspiring, can be counted upon to jump on whatever bandwagon happens to pass.

It’s no surprise that, in a country that the Philippine Statistics Authority tells us is around 80 percent Catholic, we have a hard time maintaining the separation of church and state. Government is supposedly predicated upon civil rights and equal protections under the law, while the stance of organizations like the CBCP have moral roots in interpretations of Church doctrine. From the standpoint of human rights, those interpretations have led to considerable conflict. The CBCP lobbies against all efforts at contraception but seems morally blind to the costs of infant mortality, malnourished children and an unending cycle of poverty, where population growth consumes the benefits of even the most effective anti-poverty programs.

The Church’s stances are equally confused and conflicted. Legal divorce may not be allowed, but adultery and bigamy—and spousal violence—pass unseen. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that the Catholic Church should oppose same-sex marriage, while the US-based Pew Research Center reports that 73 percent of adult Filipinos agree with the statement that “homosexuality should be accepted by society,” ranking us as one of the top LGBT-friendly countries in the world.

On the other hand, more than 30,000 Filipinos signed an online petition supporting Pacquiao’s statement in the days following the local and international repercussions of his public “othering” of the entire LGBT community, in which he described them to be “worse than animals.”

It can all be very confusing—especially in an election year. How many of Manny’s supporters support him simply because he’s a boxing hero? How many support him out of homophobia? How many out of moral certitude—and especially because of the parties and candidates they support in the coming election?

Pacquiao’s political support, of course, comes from the United Nationalist Alliance and its standard bearer VP Jojo Binay. The latter’s stance in the media is that he supports Pacquiao’s opinion and chooses to “abide by and follow the position of the Catholic Church on the matter.”

Binay, who professes devout Catholicism, believes in the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family as a foundation of society. In a speech delivered to “Marriage Encounter” in 2012, he said: “Within the folds of family, children gain their values and their strength. It is through parents that children first learn generosity, forgiveness, faith, compassion, and charity.” While his stance on stoning homosexuals seems more liberal than that of Pacquiao, his statement questioning the parenting abilities of same-sex couples is indeed unfortunate—even if culturally mainstream.

The Liberal Party’s Mar Roxas also approaches the issue as a question of mainstream Catholic values, rather than in terms of human and civil rights. In a recent TV interview, he said of same-sex marriage: “As a public policy for me, I am not in favor of it. But… I have relatives that I am very close to who have partners, and I respect them, I love them, and I accept them… I treat them with love and generosity.”

As early as 2015, Roxas gained support from a number of civil society and religious organizations. Notably, he was also prayed over by Manila Archbishop Luis Cardinal Tagle last year.

With Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, meanwhile, we sink more deeply into the quagmire of simultaneously-held opposing views. During the 14th Congress, she introduced Senate Bill 1843, highlighting that “all persons must be treated in the same manner.”

While this would seem to establish her support of the LGBT community, she had also previously filed Senate Bill 1276 in the 11th Congress—an Act Amending the Family Code of the Philippines, in which marriages solemnized outside the Philippines are recognized to be valid in this country—except for same-sex marriages.

Santiago has attempted to clarify in the media that the 2006 bill was not intended to discriminate against the LGBT community—only to resolve conflicting provisions in the Family Code, but this remains problematic.

The views of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte are perhaps the most kaleidoscopic of all. Once upon a time, he was very consistent about same-sex marriage. Happiness, he has said in various interviews, should be freely available to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. In 2012, he said: “Being married and marrying the person that you love is a matter of choice. Gays are supposed to have the same equal rights and freedom as heterosexuals, including the freedom to marry and build a family.”

Going Roxas’ familial tolerance one better, Duterte told TV host and openly gay comedienne Vice Ganda that he himself was gay when he was younger, but later reformed. The truth of this remains unconfirmed, but, like Binay’s implications about parenting, Duterte’s implication that “reform” is called for is also unfortunate.

Since beginning his presidential candidacy in earnest, however, Duterte has said in interviews that he will not, after all, push for same-sex marriage, citing the civil code of the Philippines, which is based on “universally-accepted Christian beliefs,” adding that marriage is a “holy union” exclusive to heterosexual couples.

Only Sen. Grace Poe seems to openly include LGBT rights in her platform of governance, as presented in her proclamation speech. She urged the public to respect the rights of the LGBT community as equal to the rights of other sectors, saying: “Let us respect the human rights of everyone. We will not be blinded from the plight of all vulnerable sectors like persons with disability (PWDs), indigenous peoples, urban poor, women, youth, children, LGBT persons, and senior citizens.”

In an email to an online news site, Poe said that she “supports the right of two consenting adults to contract civil marriage, regardless of their sex,” adding that, “All persons are guaranteed equality in their rights. Human rights accrue to them from birth. Our Constitution mandates the State to guarantee full respect for human rights. Our laws cannot discriminate against persons because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

*  *  *

While 73 percent of the population agrees that “homosexuality should be accepted by society,” another survey—this one by Laylo Research Strategies in 2015—reveals that about 70 percent oppose legalizing same-sex marriage. These figures go a long way toward explaining why the positions of most of our presidential candidates remain so ambivalent.

Where does the law itself stand? Put simply, the Family Code of 1987 exclusively defines marriage to be a “special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman… for the establishment of conjugal and family life.” Meanwhile, the Philippine Constitution, in its article on separation of church and state, insists: “No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.” This is why it is essential to make a distinction between a “civil union” and the “holy matrimony” of Christian doctrine. They are two entirely different things, although they may commonly occur simultaneously—any member of the clergy solemnizing a marriage must also sign a civil document: the marriage contract.

While a change in Church doctrine could take centuries, a shift in the civil status involved in marriage might be—given the Constitution—far more realistic. It is precisely that civil status—not the religious one—that proponents of civil unions seek.

They seek next-of-kin rights at hospital, death-bed and prison visits. They seek the same taxation and SSS status other married couples have and the rights of joint ownership. And—horrifically to some, perhaps—the right to adopt children. 


Rights, protections, and benefits of marriage as a social institution. HDPRC

If what is involved is a change in the wording of the 1987 Family Code (and obviously enormous political will within the House and Senate), what are the chances the country will allow this in the near or far future?

For now, the point is clear: a candidate seeking to use divisiveness, hate speech or demagoguery to their benefit at the polls has a fertile field of potential voters to cultivate. When someone like Pacquiao compares non-cisgender people to animals, it paves the way for the denial of civil and human rights. And stripping the “other” of their humanity is a dangerous game indeed. In this day and age, it could well be a strategy that backfires entirely. 

One often hears that opposing same-sex unions on moral grounds is one thing, while endorsing the dehumanization of gays is another matter altogether. But this might be a “difference without distinction,” like saying: “I’m not against gays. Some of my best friends are gay.” For isn’t opposing the rights of gays to legally wed whom they love tantamount to consigning them to second-class citizenship, making them less than equal, and therefore less than fully human?

What is at stake here, then, is not the sexual practices of LGBTs, which are ultimately no one’s business but their own. In the final analysis, it is about according them equal rights under the law.

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