LGBTQ+ rights

What would a civil union be like in the Philippines?

Michelle Abad
Based on the pending bill, same-sex couples in civil partnerships would be able to share property, be entitled to social security and insurance, and adopt children

In a milestone, a new documentary revealed on Wednesday, October 21, that Pope Francis supports civil unions for same-sex couples. Gender equality advocates in Catholic-majority Philippines were ecstatic about the news, as the Pontiff became the first leader of his church to endorse this idea.

The Pope, whose opposition to gay marriage has remained unchanged, said in a documentary premiered at the Rome Film Festival: “These are children of God, they have the right to a family.”

“What we have to create is a law of civil union, they have the right to be legally protected. I have defended that,” he said in film-maker Evgeny Afineevsky’s Francesco.

Filipino lawmakers have been pushing for the recognition of civil partnerships in recent years.

Hindi ito usapin ng relihiyon. Ito’y isyu ng karapatang pantao, bagay na kinikilala at binibigyang halaga mismo ni Pope Francis,” said Bagong Henerasyon Representative Bernadette Herrera, one author of the civil partnership bill.

(This is not a discussion of religion. This is a discussion of human rights, as recognized and valued by Pope Francis himself.)

In the 18th Congress, there were at least two bills seeking to recognize civil partnerships for couples. They were pending at the committee level of the lower chamber.

Here’s a glimpse of what civil unions might look like in the Philippines, based on what are provided in pending bills:

For straight and queer

If passed, civil partnerships would be an option for both heterosexual and same-sex couples. The title of the bill pertains to a general recognition of “civil partnership of couples.”

In its first definition, a civil partnership refers to a “special contract of a union between two persons of opposite or same sex who enter into a mutual agreement to perform the rights and obligations as stated in this act.”

Property relations

Parties who enter into civil unions can decide on how they want to share property through asset statements. These can include needs like medical treatment, dwelling, food, and clothing.

Should the couple decide to separate, and if there was no pre-civil partnership agreement, there would be total separation of property.

Same benefits as marriage

Although called differently, civil unions would be given “all benefits and protections as are granted to spouses in a marriage under existing laws.”

Couples in civil unions could legally separate, adopt, and be entitled to child custody and support.

Labor benefits and privileges given to employees based on marital status will also be applied to employees in civil partnerships. Tax laws for married couples will be applicable to civil partnership couples, too.

A person in a civil union may give consent to medical treatments on behalf of his or her civil partner with a serious medical condition.

Civil partners are also allowed equal visitation rights in hospitals and detention facilities, and can make burial decisions.

Like married couples, civil partners legally owe each other respect, fidelity, support, and assistance. They are expected to live together, and are jointly responsible for managing their household.

Should the couple in a civil union become parents to a child under agreed terms, the couple has the same obligations to the child as provided for married couples.

Adoption

Civil union couples would be able to adopt children. They would need to satisfy the same qualifications under existing adoption laws.

The bill explicitly prohibits discrimination for same-sex couples who want to adopt.

“If the adopting civil partnership couple are persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or expression (SOGIE), this fact alone shall not be considered as proof of bad moral character,” the bill reads.

Authorities cannot use SOGIE as a qualifying requirement. “There shall be no discrimination against civil partners who will adopt children,” the bill adds.

The bottom line for adoption, whether for married couples or civil partnership couples, is that it must be done in the best interest and welfare of the child.

Social security and insurance

Couples in civil partnerships would enjoy the same rights and privileges granted to married couples in social security and insurance memberships.

These include benefits in the Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). The bill requires private insurance providers to comply as well.

Separation

The bill provides numerous grounds for separation for straight and queer couples in civil unions. Here are some of them:

  • Physical violence or grossly abusive conduct
  • Drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, or chronic gambling
  • The respondent being in a bigamous marriage and/or civil partnership, whether in the Philippines or abroad
  • Infidelity, perversion, or having a child with another person, except if through in vitro fertilization (IVF) or if the partner bears a child after being a victim of rape
  • Abandonment with no justifiable cause
  • A kill attempt against the partner, a common child, or the partner’s child
  • Psychological incapacity
  • Consent obtained by fraud or force
  • Irreconcilable differences beyond repair, despite attempts at reconciliation

Should a couple dissolve their civil union, the bill also provides several protections for children, such as the obligation to continue supporting the child until the court finds the child is no longer dependent on the parents.

Previous discussions

Same-sex civil unions have been a subject of legal discussion in recent years.

Are they constitutional? Yes – one person who asserted this is retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio.

In a June 2018 interpellation of Solicitor General Jose Calida, Carpio said same-sex civil unions are based on the constitutional right to freedom of association. This same freedom is cited in the current version of the bill, and originally cited in the 17th Congress version sponsored by former House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

The Bill of Rights in the Constitution protects “the right of the people, including those employed in the public and private sectors, to form unions, associations, or societies for purposes not contrary to law.”

By logic, because people are free to associate with one another, any two people can enter into a contract that would guarantee them the civil rights enjoyed by a married couple.

Marriage, however, is defined by the Family Code as between a man and a woman.

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The House of Representatives under Alvarez’s leadership even prioritized the passage of civil unions in the 17th Congress. However, the bill still languished at the committee level.

In July 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte himself supported same-sex civil unions. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said while the President is against same-sex marriage, he was in favor of civil unions.

As for same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court junked a petition for it on account of technicalities in September 2019.

“On my part, I understand that the opposition against civil unions come from members of our community with conservative views. But let us ask, is there really reason to oppose civil unions based on conservatism?” Alvarez said in a new statement.

“After all, if two persons choose to love, care for, support (and be faithful to) each other, and to have these rights, duties, and obligations protected and enforceable by law, is this not conservatism too?”

Lawmakers and the head of the church himself have given their two cents. Will same-sex civil unions soon become a reality in Catholic-majority Philippines? – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer with the investigative unit of Rappler. She also covers overseas Filipinos and the rights of women and children.