On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court made two significant decisions in favor of same-sex marriage. The broader of the two was the Court’s decision to strike down as unconstitutional Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This was a federal law denying marriage benefits to same-sex couples legally wed under state law. Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed that DOMA “place[d]same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, and whose relationship the state sought to dignify.”
While providing national recognition of and benefits to same-sex marriages obtained in states that have legalized the institution, this ruling does not affect states that have not legalized same-sex marriage. This is not federal legalization of same-sex marriage, but it, at least, is a step. Moreover, the ruling provides support to LGBT activists for future challenges to the states’ prohibition of same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court decision communicates that prejudice against same-sex marriages is unlawful discrimination, and the federal government will recognize as equal those same-sex marriages lawfully obtained. While deferring to states’ rights to set the states’ legal norms, the federal government no longer de facto classifies same-sex unions as abnormal. It may not be revolutionary, but it is nevertheless cause for celebration.
While the Catholic Archbishop of Detroit, Allen H. Vigneron, made a statement that the Supreme Court decision supposedly “hurt us all,” the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and other churches nation-wide set their bells to ring at noon in support of the Supreme Court’s decision. This reminder that many religious groups now support same-sex marriage is stirring and heartening.
What is the state of LGBT rights in the Philippines? Actually, same-sex marriages are performed within and recognized by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP). According to Edwin Espejo in his December 27, 2010 article for Asian Correspondent, the New People’s Army (NPA) officiated the first recorded same-sex marriage in the Philippines in February 2005 between comrades Ka Andres and Ka Jose. Senior members of the Southern Mindanao Regional Party Committee of the CPP officiated the marriage before an audience of comrades, witnesses, and select journalists. Espejo further reports:
“Relationships inside the rebel movement are governed by a set of rules embodied in the rebel document entitled OPRS (On Personal Relationship of Sexes). Courtship goes through the collectives of each prospective partner and women are allowed to court men. [Communist leader Jorge Madlos, or Ka Oris] said [the CCP does]not discriminate on the sexual preference of [its]members although promiscuous relationships and sexual opportunism are strictly prohibited and carry disciplinary actions. Marriage inside the rebel movement is usually officiated by a high ranking rebel officer or a senior cadre. Couples swear their love and loyalty to each other with the communist flag as a backdrop. The couple also exchange bullets while they vow to each other.”
What about outside the CCP? Mercifully, private, non-commercial, homosexual sex between consenting persons is legal in the Philippines. However, public shows of affection or sexual conduct between members of the same sex may be subject to the ‘grave scandal’ law. Additionally, since 2009, LGBT-identifying persons have been permitted to serve in the military. However, the LGBT community in the Philippines enjoys no protection of civil rights at all.
This is deeply disappointing. It was in the Philippines that the first-ever gay march in Asia took place. Our oldest and largest LGBT rights group, the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (ProGay Philippines), organized that march in 1993. Twenty years hence, what have we achieved?
On April 8, 2010 the Supreme Court of the Philippines reversed the COMELEC ruling that had denied the LGBT political party Ang Ladlad’s petition to run in the May 2010 elections on the grounds of “immorality.” Unfortunately, Ladlad received only 85,175 votes in the 2013 midterm elections; this is down from 114,120 votes in 2010. We can compare this to Gabriela’s 597,978 garnered votes in the 2013 elections, or to Akbayan’s 680,173 votes.
We have much further to go before we can be proud of the way our government and laws treat our fellow citizens. But, until the state and religious organizations are able to surmount their prejudices, we can at least, as individuals, commit to quelling hatred and intolerance in our daily lives, and promise LGBT Filipinos higher standards of respect and humanity than our government currently does.