From the Archives: Married…and gay about it

Marriage is not just a piece of paper. Neither is it a tax shelter. What it is, though, is the state’s recognition of two individuals’ promise of life-long union. And just like many heterosexual couples, homosexual ones also hope to have this recognition. But it seems that same-sex couples cannot depend only on the legal guarantee of equal rights. They have had to lobby for bills in the Congress and the Senate in order to be accorded these rights—including the right to be recognized as being part of a life-long couple. Moreover, their struggles do not end there. Upon finding out about these bills, the Filipino public felt the need to react (either against or for it) and make an issue out of it.

Too much, too soon

On March 25, 1999, Rep. Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo proposed House Bill No. 7165, or the Lesbian and Gay Rights Act of 1999 (LAGRA), to the House of Representatives. It is a bill that hopes to cover all issues concerning the promotion of equal rights for gays and lesbians. This includes giving equal opportunities for employment, education, public service, primary health care, and military service; the punishment of discriminatory acts against lesbians and gays; the formation of committees, like the Lesbian and Gay Anti-Discrimination Board, to ensure the representation of homosexuals in the government, and to promote their rights and welfare; the celebration of National Lesbian and Gay People’s Days; and the rights to domestic partnership, child custody and adoption.

Lynda (not her real name), a teacher at de La Salle and an officer of LAGABLAB (Lesbian and Gay Network for Legislative Advocacy) believes the bill is not likely to pass. First, she believes Bellaflor-Angara is not doing much to defend it in Congress, and especially against Church officials who exacerbate the issue. It is not emphasized enough to the public and the government that the bill is asking for legalization of same-sex domestic partnership, not same-sex marriage. Second, Lynda explains that since the bill is trying to be all-encompassing, it is likely that the whole bill will be rejected in the event that any provision on domestic partnership is not approved, all other provisions—such as giving equal opportunities for employment and education—might be lost. Lastly, Lynda says the Magna Carta for the Disabled LAGRA is bound to ask for things which lesbians and gays do not really need. One such thing is the Lesbian and Gay Crisis Assistance Desks. The bill provides that a desk “be established in every barangay, city/municipality, and province.” That is bound to be costly; due to lack of government funds, Congress is not likely to pass this provision, and the other provisions along with it.

It would seem that LAGRA is asking for too much too soon from a still predominantly patriarchal and homophobic society. Although promoting equal rights is ideal for a democratic public like ours, that same public is sure to make noise when it comes to certain consequences of giving totally equal rights to lesbians and gays. Two such consequences are having homosexuals in the military and allowing domestic partnership between those of the same sex. Surely, it is the latter that will precipitate higher decibels of protest.

Domestic partnership?

One impediment to Angara-Castillo’s bill is its contradiction of the Family Code, which limits marriage to union between a man and a woman. However, the said bill is asking for domestic partnership and not really marriage. According to it, the right to enter into a contract of domestic partnership is “freedom to exercise one’s choice for a lifelong partner.” Those who enter such contract also enjoy rights and privileges, like certain tax shelters and the right to child custody and adoption. This, though, makes its hard to distinguish domestic partnership from marriage.

However, in countries like UK and the US, domestic partnership is clearly distinct from marriage. Here, any two individual—regardless of gender and whether or not they have sexually intimate relationships—can enter into domestic partnership and thereby exercise the rights associated with it. A nurse and an old woman, two “straight” fraternity brothers, or even a man and a woman who are simply friends can enter into domestic partnership. Domestic partnership simply means living together for a long time.

But this is not its meaning in the said bill. Despite using the term ‘domestic partnership’ instead of ‘marriage,’ and although the rights and benefits stated under marriage, same-sex marriage is still what it boils down to.

Behind the law

According to an annotation by Jose Nolledo on a provision in the Family Code, the first characteristic of marriage is that of being a “special contract between parties who, it is emphasized, must be a man and a woman (no valid marriage being permissible between the same sexes).” The prohibition cannot be more explicit than that. But why such a prohibition?

The annotation of Nolledo—one of the drafters of the 1987 Constitution—does not mention any justification. Surely our legislators must have had good reasons for every word of the law. From the silence behind the prohibition against same-sex marriages, there is some sense in saying that the law is discriminatory against members of the so-called third sex.

Nevertheless, this unspoken reason may yet be explained. Laws are made by humans, humans with cultural and historical backgrounds influencing their decisions. Sounds like common sense? Then, it would also be common sense to conclude that our culture is generally homophobic. And when the Philippine culture is under discussion. The Catholic faith inevitably gets into the picture.

What is natural

According to Lynda, there is a bishop out to stop the bill. He even dubs it the Anti-Family Law (although it cannot be called a law without the required ratification by the legislature). This means that LAGRA does not meet this bishop’s vision—and that of many Catholics, for that matter—of a family. (The traditional notion of a family is primarily that which has one father, one mother, and several children. Of course the parents are male and female, notwithstanding the different meanings that may be assigned to the words ‘father’ and ‘mother’ when sex is not considered). Any setup deviating from the norm on family will then be perceived as unnatural; as the sexual practice of homosexuality is perceived as unnatural.

However, natural is a problematic concept. There are a variety of families other than the nuclear one. It would sound preposterous to call all of them unnatural. Giovanni Bautista, PLM-BSA, says that unnatural may not even be possible. He asks how coitus between people of the same sex can be unnatural, when such is possible and is actually happening (and has been happening since the time of the Greeks). How then are varieties of families other than the nuclear one be considered unnatural when these actually exist? Indeed, how can anyone be certain of what is natural, especially when it comes to issues concerning lesbians and gays?

A family by any other name…

The family is central to our culture. And when a Filipino is asked what a family is, he or she is likely to think of the traditional nuclear setup, which according to Lynda is upheld by the present structure of our laws. She argues that this can also be destructive, as family members may end up discontented. The father works outside all day and may wish to stay at home for a change. But being outside all day, he does not develop a very close bond with his children. The mother who works at home may wish to have a career of her own and fulfil her potentials in the world outside. The children, needless to say, would not have a very close relationship with their mother. This tends to foster a kind of psychological imbalance in the children. (This tradition still permeates our society despite the much vaunted “post-feminism” era, which is supposed to have heralded the advent of women’s true liberation from domesticity and towards equality in the workplace. The benefits of a truly modernized society that is mature when it comes to gender issues is largely enjoyed only by the urban rich and the upper middle class of suburbia. Meanwhile, the bulk of our population suffers from sexual suffocation.)

Lynda however is not saying that the nuclear family is bad, and that a family with a same-sex couple is better. She is saying that the nuclear family is not perfect and that problems occur in all kinds, whether nuclear, single-parent, same-sex, or communal. Lynda also emphasizes that there is no sociological or psychological study proving that same-sex parents rear problem children. Studies only point out causes such as parents not having enough time for their children.

Moreover, same-sex couples have already been staying together and building families despite the cultural taboo. In fact, Lynda mentions two churches in the Philippines where such couples are “married”. These are the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) and the Order of Saint Aelred (OSA).


Lynda relates the experience of her friend Leah, a lesbian feminist. When Leah left her husband and lived with her lesbian partner, she brought her three children with her (two girls and a boy). The last time Lynda checked, the boy was about to finish college, one girl was engaged, and the other was already married and had a child. Lynda believes Leah is now a happy lola.

She also talks about another friend, Vangie, who has had an unfortunate experience. Vangie worked in an NGO fighting for human rights. Being estranged from her husband a long time, she met and had an intimate relationship with Beth. When her husband discovered her affair, he took their child and hid in the province. To make things worse, when her co-workers at the NGO discovered her relationship with Beth, they were both fired. Fortunately, she found a way to take her child back. (Actually, she had to “kidnap” her own child.) Today, the child is about 9 or 10 years old and is being raised by both Vangie and Beth. Vangie works while Beth, an artist, stays at home to look out for the child. 

Lastly, Lynda relates an episode from Points of View wherein a lesbian couple, Malou and Chris, were interviewed with their three male children. During the show, a guest psychologist contended that such a family setup was dysfunctional and did not provide healthy role models for the children. One of the children, a 16-year-old, reacted by saying that the psychologist did not have any right to criticize his family. He explained that he was happy and content; that each member of his family loved each other; and that the children’s only major difficulty was the constant teasing of their peers because of his parents’ gender. In their family, one parent has a masculine image while the other has a feminine one. However, Lynda explains that not all same-sex relationships work this way. There are lesbian couples who are both feminine, and gay couples who are both masculine.

A matter of pride

Andrew Sullivan in his book, Virtually Normal, explains that the case of homosexuals as a marginalized group is unique. He says, “This is a new kind of minority politics. It is less a matter of complaint than of pride; less about subversion than about the desire to contribute honestly.” This means that homosexuals need to be able to do the things they have already been doing in an honest and open manner, without the need to hide their sexual orientation for fear of discrimination (or at least with hope for equal government protection). After all, this desire to be recognized and to do things honestly and without the shame is something everyone, straight or not, can relate with homosexuals about. Sullivan also says that promoting this kind atmosphere would help homosexual children develop into better persons (not having to go through the painful childhood many homosexuals have had). Lastly, he adds that the heterosexual community really had nothing to lose from what the homosexual community had to gain.

As for now…

On January 26, 2000, rep. Loretta Ann Rosales proposed the House Bill No. 9095, or the Anti-Discrimination Act (ADA). It is an “act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and providing penalties thereof”. This includes giving equal opportunities for employment, education, public service, primary health care, and military service. It does not include same-sex marriage (or domestic partnership).

Lynda believes this bill has better chances of being passed in congress since it is smaller and not as all-encompassing as LAGRA.

Nevertheless, prior to LAGRA and ADA, there have been proposed bills concerning homosexuals and their rights. Sometime in 1995, Congressman Calalay proposed a bill that provides for a lesbian or gay representative or legislator. It constituted a considerable controversy at the time. The lesbian and gay community fully supported this bill, however, unlike the case of the LAGRA. The initial uproar died sometime in 1997. Either the bill had stopped moving, the panel had not been able to agree on a stand, or no further senator public hearing had been scheduled. Sometime before former senator and Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan died, he and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago proposed a bill allowing only biological males and females to marry. This implied that transsexuals were not allowed to marry. Ironically, Defensor-Santiago is now proposing the ADA to the Senate. In fact, she proposed it ten days earlier than Rosales did in Congress. Also, Gringo Honasan is proposing the LAGRA to the senate, just as Bellaflor-Angara did in Congress. Lynda says that a bill supposedly had better chances of quickly being a full-fledged law if it was simultaneously proposed in both houses.

In any case, same-sex marriage is still unlikely to prosper in Congress now. Indeed, it may be good for ADA that it does not include a provision on same-sex marriage.

The very obstacle to the approval of same-sex marriage, and other homosexually-related causes, is homophobia. But homophobia is characteristic of our culture. Obviously, same-sex marriage is only a small part of the bigger issue, which is transforming a culture of discrimination into one that would be healthier for the discriminated. Transforming culture? This is a pretty heavy job but not entirely impossible. After all, culture is dynamic. It changes.

And one of the best and most effective means of transforming culture may very well be through law.

Jonathan Quianzon

By Jonathan Quianzon

Leave a Reply