What the Supreme Court says about love
MANILA, Philippines – In America 50 years ago, you could not love someone whose skin color was different from yours. But love fights.
Some of the cases brought to the Supreme Court have been a testament to that – love strives, if not to triumph, then at least to be just.
In 1992, the Supreme Court awarded damages to a young woman's parents who sued the parents of their daughter’s boyfriend for civil damages. The young couple died in "what appears from all indications was a crime committed by their minor son."
In that decision, Justice Florenz Regalado said:
“One of the ironic verities of life, it has been said, is that sorrow is sometimes a touchstone of love.”
There are the real deaths, then there are the presumptive deaths. In Philippine civil code, if a spouse disappears "and there is danger of death," then the other party can presume him or her to be dead and can remarry.
In 1998, Jerry Cantor left wife Maria Fe in their home and never returned. Even after 4 years, the Supreme Court did not allow for Jerry to be presumed dead, therefore prohibiting Maria Fe from moving on.
Justice Marvic Leonen said in his dissent:
“She bore the indignity of being left behind. She suffered the indifference of her husband. Such indifference was not momentary. She anguished through years of never hearing from him. The absence of a few days between spouses may be tolerable, required by necessity. The absence of months may test one’s patience. But the absence of years of someone who made the solemn promise to stand by his partner in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, is intolerable. The waiting is as painful to the spirit as the endless search for a person that probably did not want to be found or could no longer be found.”
Justice Leonen also dissented when the Supreme Court ruled that despite decades of separation, it is the wife who has the right to bury her husband, and not the common-law partner that he has been with until his death.
“The law reaches into much of our lives while we live. It constitutes and frames most of our actions. But at the same time, the law also grants us the autonomy or the space to define who we are. Upon our death, the law does not cease to respect our earned autonomy. Rather, it gives space for us to speak through the agency of she who may have sat at our bedside as we suffered through a lingering illness.
I am of the view that it is that love and caring which should be rewarded with the honor of putting us in that place where we mark our physical presence for the last time and where we will be eternally remembered.”
There is also injustice in sex, as the Supreme Court declared in Tsoi vs Court of Appeals. The High Court declared null and void a marriage based on the complaint of the wife that they were not having sex.
Justice Justo Torres Jr said:
“Love is useless unless it is shared with another. Indeed, no man is an island, the cruelest act of a partner in marriage is to say "I could not have cared less." This is so because an ungiven self is an unfulfilled self. The egoist has nothing but himself. In the natural order, it is sexual intimacy which brings spouses wholeness and oneness. Sexual intimacy is a gift and a participation in the mystery of creation. It is a function which enlivens the hope of procreation and ensures the continuation of family relations.”
Love, we learn, needs to fulfill obligations. In Antonio vs Reyes, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the wife was still in love with her husband. Nevertheless, they still voided the marriage after finding that the wife was "psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential obligations of marriage."
Justice Dante Tinga said:
“Marriage, in legal contemplation, is more than the legitimatization of a desire of people in love to live together.”
Love is also something you decide to work hard for, said Dr Nedy Lorenzo Tayag in his expert testimony as a clinical psychologist in the annulment case of Rumbaua vs Rumbaua.
“Individuals who are in love had the power to let love grow or let love die – it is a choice one had to face when love is not the love he/she expected.”
Chief Justice Hilario Davide has an advice for those who find themselves in the legal and moral dilemma of falling in love outside marriage:
“If he really loved her, then the noblest thing he could have done was to walk away.”
In that case, Davide and the Supreme Court disbarred the lawyer for committing bigamy.
Is a love that is lawful a just love? Ask the woman in Figueroa vs Barranco who tried to bar her ex-boyfriend from taking his lawyer’s oath after he left her and their child, and married another woman. She did not prevail.
Justice Flerida Ruth Romero said:
“We cannot castigate a man for seeking out the partner of his dreams, for marriage is a sacred and perpetual bond which should be entered into because of love, not for any other reason.”
If a woman left her husband and their children, is that a ground for annulment? Not in Matudan vs People as the Supreme Court remained very conservative in its definition of what constitutes annulment.
Justice Leonen pleaded the court to be more open minded in his dissent:
“Parties should not be forced to stay in unhappy or otherwise broken marriages in the guise of protecting the family. This avoids the reality that people fall out of love. There is always the possibility that human love is not forever.”
To borrow from American jurisprudence, the US Supreme Court in 1967 invalidated all laws that prohibited interracial marriages. They said in Loving vs Virginia:
The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.
In Obergefell vs Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage in all US states, their Supreme Court said:
“Marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
That landmark ruling proves that love can win, despite odds.
Justice Florenz Regalado left us with this poignant lesson in love when he awarded back wages to a 30-year-old teacher who was fired for marrying her 16-year-old student.
“If the two eventually fell in love, despite the disparity in their ages and academic levels, this only lends substance to the truism that the heart has reasons of its own which reason does not know.”