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Same-sex civil marriage bill may ‘divide’ House – minority lawmakers

Mara Cepeda
Legislators agree that the bill Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez plans to file will spark an 'intelligent' deliberation on LGBT rights at the House of Representatives

LGBT RIGHTS. A couple kisses during the 22nd Manila Pride March in June 2016. File photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Ranking members of the House minority expressed their reservations against Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s plan to file a bill seeking to institutionalize same-sex civil marriage in the country.

In separate interviews with Rappler, Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza said the measure might distract the 17th Congress from passing the legislative agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte.  

Bakit pa natin pag-uusapan ‘yan? Ma-di-divide ‘yung House. Baka ma-refocus ‘yung ating attention (Why do we even need to talk about that? The House will be divided. Our attention might be refocused). Digong (Duterte) is concentrated on drugs and peace and order. There’s health, employment, education,” said Suarez in a phone interview. 

Alvarez said his measure would lift same-sex civil marriage prohibitions in the almost 3-decade-old Family Code of the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country. The Speaker said it is his way of showing solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. 

He added that the bill would not be fast-tracked because it is not among Duterte’s priority measures

When asked if he would support same-sex marriage, however, Suarez only said it would have to be debated upon by lawmakers. 

Siguro masusing debate ‘yan (Maybe that would be a thorough debate). I’m not sure whether the majority can get a unanimous [vote on that]. Maraming conflict ‘yan (There will be conflict). I voice out my concern on that. Church will go against that,” said Suarez.

Atienza was more precise, saying he is “disappointed” at Alvarez. 

“I really am disappointed of the decision of Speaker Alvarez. I was expecting more from him not to get this issue right in the midst of our busy schedule in Congress, for many of us would resist it. I am committed to resist it,” said the Buhay representative.  

Atienza said same-sex marriage is “not in accordance with the 1987 Constitution, the Family Code of the Philippines and the law of God.” 

“So it is against the law of God, against the law of man, and natural law. Marriage is just for man and woman. I agree that we must fight discriminatory actions against any member of the LGBT community. I support the anti-discrimination bill, yes, but legalizing marriage, no, because it will completely destroy the value we have inherited from our forefathers from our faith. The value of marriage is to start a family,” said Atienza. 

Apart from passing the anti-discrimination bill, LGBT rights advocates have also been calling for the passage of a same-sex marriage law, but the Catholic Church has opposed it. (READ: Same-sex marriage, love and dissent)

A May 2015 The Standard survey also showed that 7 out of 10 Filipinos oppose same-sex marriage.

For ‘healthy’ discussions

Still, some lawmakers welcomed Alvarez’s decision, but acknowledged that passing the bill would be difficult. 

“I’m actually looking forward to the Speaker filing the bill and getting support from the coalition members. Needless to say, it’s controversial and might have a difficult path to passage, but it’s worth an intelligent deliberation in Congress,” said Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr in a text message. 

Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano said once Alvarez files the bill, it would pave the way for “healthy discussions” on the issues being faced by the LGBT community.  

Perhaps, Cayetano said, he can also support the anti-discrimination bill that has more adherents at the moment, and in the same vein, the divorce bill, which women’s rights advocates are also pushing. 

Inabot ko pa po ‘yung time (I reached that time) that certain issues were considered taboo like the RH (Reproductive Health) Bill, and it took a long while for us to even attempt to discuss this in what I feel is a healthy and a productive way,” said Cayetano. 

“But I feel that the time has come that we should be able to set aside our biases, our discomfort, because as legislators, we should be able to talk about this issue whenever it affects the lives of our kababayans (countrymen),” she added. 

Baguilat added that Alvarez may also support the anti-discrimination and divorce bills already filed at the House of Representatives. 

“That way, it makes him a genuine gender rights advocate,” said Baguilat. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.