LGBT rights in the Philippines – any signs of progress this 2012?
“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities” – from Ayn Rand’s “Collectived Rights”
United States President Barack Obama last week became the first sitting American leader to endorse gay marriages. “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said during an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts. His announcement was expectedly cheered by gay rights advocates and slammed by his critics. And for his efforts, Newsweek magazine dubbed Obama as the “first gay president” in its latest issue.
Andrew Sullivan, an openly gay columnist for Newsweek magazine, praised Obama for shifting not just the stand of the whole Democratic Party on the issue, but also how mainstream America sees it. Sullivan went on to enumerate the advances achieved by the LGBT sector during since Obama took office in January 2009.
The Obama government had dropped the 17-year-old policy of barring openly gay Americans from serving in the military. Last year, his administration stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied national recognition to gay couples. Obviously, the way Americans see the subject has also evolved through the years, as an article in Yahoo News suggests. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 47% of Americans now support same-sex marriage, up from just 35% back in 2001.
Obama’s historic declaration inevitably triggered renewed discussions on LGBT rights in the Philippines. Writing for Rappler.com, prominent gay rights activist Jonas Bagas flatly stated that this development “won’t alter anything here fundamentally.” He nevertheless added that the once-overwhelmingly negative social attitudes and behavior of Filipinos toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage are gradually changing, mainly in part due to the social media.
Nevertheless, the progress achieved by the local LGBT sector remains limited even if President Benigno Aquino III in 2010 received the endorsement of Ang Ladlad, the first accredited political party for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Filipinos. For one, the Anti-Gay and Lesbian Discrimination Bill or House Bill 1483 remains stalled in Congress even after many years.
Last month, Aquino signed a law decriminalizing vagrancy. However, the law was criticized by women’s groups sinceit left a key provision that only women can be considered as prostitutes untouched. More tellingly, one of his spokespersons reiterated that Aquino does not share Obama’s belief on marriage equality (as if the reporter who threw this question expected another answer).
Religion now seems to be the biggest stumbling block to further advances vis-à-vis LGBT rights in the Philippines. Last December, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) objected to the passage of the Anti-Ethnic, Racial or Religious Discrimination and Profiling Act of 2011. Despite not being LGBT-specific, CBCP lawyer Ronald Reyes baselessly claimed that the bill will “open the door for same-sex marriages in the country.”
On the other hand, two Filipino celebrities, 1999 Miss Universe runner-up Miriam Quiambao and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, lately used the Bible to reiterate their anti-gay sentiments. Quiambao wrote on Twitter: “Homosexuality is not a sin but it is a lie from the devil. Do not be deceived. God loves gays and wants them to know the truth.” She eventually apologized for her remarks after receiving flak from netizens.
In an interview with the National Conservative Examiner in US, Pacquiao slammed Obama for his pro-gay marriage stance, citing Leviticus 20:13. “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable,” Pacquiao said. He added that gay marriages “adulterate the altar of matrimony, like in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah of Old.” Pacquiao’s supposed defense of traditional marriage crumbles haplessly when put against his record of womanizing. Apart from his much-hyped affair with starlet Krista Ranillo in 2009, Pacquiao also has at least one confirmed lovechild.
Below is an image of a poster that this writer saw in the intersection of Quezon Avenue and Araneta Avenue in Quezon City last week. Curiously, the group responsible for this poster chose not to disclose its identity. Just like Quiambao and Pacquiao, the poster mentions a verse from the Bible to condemn homosexuals.
And as an added punch line, the group appeals to whoever reads the poster to pray “for them.” Pray for divine intervention so that LGBT Filipinos can become heterosexuals one day? As in the case of having a comprehensive national population policy, the Philippines stands to be years behind other countries once again as regards the advancement of LGBT rights. Indeed, there’s still a long way to go before LGBT Filipinos can achieve what their American counterparts are already enjoying.