Same-sex marriage in the Philippines?

If social attitudes are gradually shifting, why is it hard to push for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage here? Many would automatically blame the Catholic taliban, but that's a wrong framing of the problem.

Don’t expect Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage to have an impact here. It was a historical and an inspiring gesture, one that would galvanize a changing cultural perspective on same-sex relationships inside and outside America.

Here, it would spark debates on our readiness for same-sex marriage, but don’t hold your breath: it won’t alter anything here fundamentally. Don’t even think that this would suddenly lead President Aquino to push his allies in Congress to enact a law legalizing same-sex marriage.

It just won’t happen.

This is not to say that the social attitudes and behavior of Filipinos toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage are not changing. They are, and social media has triggered a shift in how we digest controversial topics that in the past have been filtered and controlled by traditional institutions, such as the Church and our schools. I’m not saying that Filipinos are now more pro-LGBT, but the overall mood is changing, and there’s more openness to engage in an issue that is still otherwise considered taboo.

Social media has democratized access to a wider range of narratives and stories on LGBTs and made them part of our common experiences, creating a climate that could help dismantle oppressive stereotypes about homosexuality. The bullying of LGBT kids in American schools, for instance, a Canadian transgender joining the Miss Universe, the coming out of Hollywood celebrities – these have all catalyzed conversations here. And while we know that these happened elsewhere, we have embraced the universal elements of these stories.

More importantly, social media has given us access to participate in these conversations. To respond to a homophobic slur in the past meant writing press releases or letters to the editors, the fate of which would depend on the mood of the editors.

Today, Facebook and Twitter could help anyone – the in-your-face LGBT activist, the closeted bakla, and their fag hags – push alternative perspectives on LGBTs, and influence how opinion gatekeepers and icons see the issue.

Why the difficulty?

If social attitudes are gradually shifting, why then is it hard to push for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage here in the Philippines?

Many would automatically blame the Catholic taliban, and how it has been trying to control our political institutions.

I think it is a wrong framing of the problem, and it grants the Catholic hierarchy a degree of influence that doesn’t exist. The Church has no control over public opinion, as proven by the continuing popularity of the RH Bill despite the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’s opposition to it and by the failure of the Catholic Church to mobilize the so-called “Catholic vote.” 

What we perceive to be the Church’s political influence in fact indicates a fundamental weakness in our political institutions, a democratic flaw that makes our system beholden to interest groups like the Catholic taliban.

The Church is powerful; the problem is that the state is weak. Legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, whether through marriage or civil unions, would not happen by engaging or reforming the Catholic hierarchy. It is after all the business of the Church hierarchy to be dogmatic, and we should just let it collapse under the weight of its internal contradictions.

We should be engaging and reforming the state and make it modern, inclusive, and truly representative.

Strategic battleground

For the LGBT community, that would require a change in strategy.

One, it means that LGBTs must reframe the debate on homosexuality along secular and non-religious terms. While I understand why Catholic LGBTs want to carve a more tolerant space within the Catholic faith, the more strategic battleground is in the Constitution, not the Bible.

Same-sex marriage is understandably a sensitive religious issue, but it is above all about our sectarian values –  about basic fairness and our constitutional rights, about human dignity regardless of the sex of the people we love.

Two, we need to be more forthright about gay love and gay sex.

For many years, LGBT activists have skirted the issue of same-sex partnerships and gay marriage as a non-priority, relegating it under more crucial issues, like discrimination in schools and the workplace. This sends the wrong signal – that same-sex partnerships are secondary and unimportant, when ironically the root of discrimination against LGBTs is the rejection of same-sex partnerships, both the sexual and romantic sides of it.

We need to embrace gay sex and gay love and feel less guilty about them.

A modern state, embracing gay sex and gay love. Who said that marriage is easy? – Rappler.com

(The author is coordinator of Akbayan’s LGBT Collective and a member of the Philippine National AIDS Council.)

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