Yes, LGBT Americans can now marry, following the 5-4 US Supreme Court ruling that struck down the ban on same-sex marriages in all 50 US states. But – aside from LGBT Filipinos who may have romantic relationships with American citizens – does this decision have any value to the common LGBT people, including the LGBT Filipino people (the #KaraniwangLGBT)?
In truth, the LGBT movement as it is widely known today is in so many ways already Americanized. The fact that LGBT Filipinos, like many LGBT communities all over the world, mark LGBT Pride in June – the month when the Stonewall Riots happened in 1969 to eventually mark what is now largely accepted to have ignited the modern LGBT movement – is proof that Pride, as it is known (and packaged) globally, is Americanized. And so, while other countries already granted legal recognition to the relationships of LGBT people in other countries (including in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and Uruguay) prior to the US, the American development can be said to be the news that reverberated the most.
According to Rev. Fr. JP Heath, the policy advisor on HIV, Human Sexuality and Theology for the International Department of the Church of Sweden; and who writes for Outrage Magazine: “In no other country has the fight between a religious conservatism and the civil and human rights of LGBTI people been more visible and captivating than in the US. What is so heartening about the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) decision of 26 June 2015 is not just that the court has declared marriage discrimination as illegal in all 50 states of the US, but that the momentum for inclusion has come not only from secular bodies but more especially from open and affirming churches.”
RAY OF HOPE
Not surprisingly, the development in the US is considered a sign of hope by many, including LGBT leaders in the Philippines.
“The historical development in the US is relevant for us because it sends a ray of hope for LGBT Filipinos that someday soon, in our own country, we will be able to achieve this kind of victory in the name of equality and love,” said Bemz Benedito, former first nominee of LGBT partylist Ang Ladlad.
Rev. Myke Abaya Sotero, who helms Metropolitan Community Church-Metropolitan Baguio, agreed.
“I believe that love is universal. It may take time before we see equality happening here in the Philippines, but the historic SCOTUS decision in America gives every Filipino same-sex couple a glimmer of hope that love always will triumph over hate. Soon, more and more countries will legalize love, and it’ll happen soon in the Philippines,” Sotero said.
As for Prof. Eric Julian Manalastas, faculty member, Department of Psychology, University of the Philippines, this development is a sign of “hope and possibility. Hope that inclusion can be won even through formal legal systems like a Supreme Court, and possibility that one day, this can also be part of our own life stories.”
“Personally, I also think about the 3.4 million (some say four million) Filipinos in the US. I look forward to them sending home not just balikbayan boxes but stories of love, souvenirs of family affirmation, and maybe even wedding invitations,” Manalastas said.
For his part, Rev. Fr. Regen R. Luna, SSD CDOS of Ekklesia Tou Theou, otherwise known as the Church of God said that “para sa amin, isang malaking tagumpay ito para sa marriage equality sa USA at sa buong mundo na rin dahil tiyak susunod din ang ibang bansa sa ganitong hakbang. Kami ay nagdiriwang sa tagumpay na ito na nakamit nila dahil 1960s pa sila lumalaban para rito (for us, this is a big achievement for marriage equality in the US and even the whole world because other countries may also follow suit. We celebrate this success because people have been working for this since the 1960s).” Luna is, however, cognizant that “sa ating bansa, yung mga traditional at conservative churches ay maaari at nangyayari na nga na mas maging vocal sa kanilang pagtutol sa marriage equality (in our country, traditional and conservative churches may – and it is already happening – become more vocal about their disagreement with marriage equality).”
Ysang Semacio Bacasmas of Ladlad Caraga Inc., a Mindanao-based LGBT organization, said that the decision of the SCOTUS highlights the growing recognition that “the suffering of the LGBT people and that inequality must end. Marriage is not a privilege, and so LGBT people should also be given the right to marry (if they so desire). This merely shows respect and recognition of LGBT rights as human rights.”
Meanwhile, Kate Montecarlo Cordova of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines (ATP) said that “the US Supreme Court decision can create a huge indirect impact to Philippine LGBT activism because it can serve as a reference of our lawyers, judges and even lawmakers. This also gives people from different parts of the world a clearer view of the rights of people with different sexual oruentation and gender identity and gender expression. This does not only promote the visibility of LGBT people, but also reinforces the significance of upholding the basic human rights of LGBT people – that is to marry the person we love, a right that has been deprived from us for a long time.”
RE-FOCUS ON THE LOCAL
However, same-sex marriage is not necessarily number one on every LGBT community’s priority list of things to do as far as promotion of LGBT human rights is concerned – again, this despite the seeming over-emphasis particularly of US-based media when tackling LGBT-related issues.
As such, for Michael David C. Tan, editor of Outrage Magazine, “over-emphasis on same-sex marriage is short-sighted.” This is because “we’ve barely scratched the surface of the issues plaguing LGBT people, particularly impoverished LGBT people whose voices are often left out of LGBT discourses.”
Tan recognized that “being able to marry is good and well.” But he said that “discussions with LGBT Filipinos who happen to be less privileged, getting married does not even enter the picture. Instead, what we get are issues after issues that need to be addressed for LGBT people to survive – from getting access to educational institutions, to fighting employment-related discrimination based on SOGIE, to paying for transportation fare for PLHIVs to access treatment hubs so they can get their ARVs and therefore not die from not having life-saving medication.”
For Murphy Red of Kapederasyon, this is a “welcome development for LGBT people in capitalist societies like the US, so it’s really a reason for them to celebrate. In the Philippines, however, there are issues of higher importance to LGBT Filipinos than same-sex marriage, like massive unemployment, systemic poverty, unequal treatment in the workplace, inadequate health services, and other essential social concerns like discrimination, homophobia and transphobia,” he said.
Murphy Red added: “Kasi halimbawang ginawa din yan ng Korte Suprema ng Pilipinas; okay, fine, pwede ngang magpakasal ang mga LGBT, hindi naman sila pinapapasok sa bars at iba pang establishments, wala naman silang makain, nagdurusa sa gutom, nagdarahop, walang hanapbuhay, hindi nakakapag-aral, at walang pambili ng gamot kapag nagkakasakit. So ano pang silbi ng same-sex marriage na ‘yan? E di mauuwi din sa paghihiwalay (Let’s say the Philippine Supreme Court also did the same in the country; fine, LGBT Filipinos can marry. But then they still aren’t allowed inside bars and other establishments, they don’t have food to eat, they starve, they are unemployed, they can’t go to school, and they can’t afford medication if they get sick. So what’s the use of being able to marry? Suffering couples will just end up parting ways). It becomes as irrelevant as hetero marriages in the country, which are legal but are recurrently being ruined by dissipated values and decadence bred by flagrant poverty and ignorance.”
Tan also re-iterated the need to “re-focus on the local” because “our experiences being LGBT are different, obviously warranting different approaches when it comes to responding to needs.”
As such, while allowing same-sex marriage may have been prioritized in Western countries like the US, “this may not necessarily be what we need right this very moment in the Philippines.”
In fact, even as many LGBT people loudly pushed (and still push) for the right to marry in various countries, marriage itself is no longer a must/as popular for heterosexual people. The National Statistics Office (NSO) in the Philippines, for instance, cited as early as 2011 the decline in the number of people getting married. Specifically, there were 476,408 marriages registered in 2011, which is 1.3% from the previous year’s figure of 482,480. Since 2009, the number of registered marriages in the Philippines has been declining.
And so for Tan, “the celebratory atmosphere that welcomed this development is – without a doubt – understandable. So many blood, sweat and tears were put into this fight, so that the milestone is well-earned. It is, without a doubt, a momentous development.”
But “we must not forget that marriage is only a part of the much, much bigger photo that is the life of the LGBT people.” As such, and even as Tan acknowledged that “this may even be considered a big, big success for the LGBT community in our fight for equal treatment; we must also recognize that it is only a step. It should signal to us that much needs to be done, and – just as the pendulum of history is starting to swing for us – this is the best time to highlight our other more pressing issues so that they can be addressed.”
For Benedito: “The LGBT movement in the Philippines was greatly patterned in the US (that is why sometimes critics would say that our advocacy is so Western).” But Benedito added that “we are optimistic that long and arduous struggle to equality and love and acceptance will also be of the same manifestations – that we will have the anti discrimination law, then the gender recognition law, and when all are laid down as groundwork, we will also have same sex marriage or civil union rights for LGBT Filipinos.”
MORE WORK TO DO, ESPECIALLY NOW
The Church of Sweden’s Heath said that even in the US, “the fight is by no means over. The significant misuse of ‘religious freedom’ as a right to discriminate against people on a hundred different levels is still a major battle, as is the fact that a religious right in the US is using their muscle and money to drive for exclusion in counties outside the US.”
However, Heath is optimistic that “this is a sign, and a hugely significant one for people across the world, that there is a growing strength, determination and experience of successfully pushing back the individual and compounded discriminations against LGBTI people and other who continue to experience discrimination one state, one law, one country at a time.”
“There’s a long, long list of things we still have to do,” said Tan.
For Tan, in the context of the Philippines, these include the anti-discrimination law (still languishing in Congress) that should give protection to the human rights of LGBT Filipinos; gender recognition law to honor the SOGIE particularly of transgender Filipinos; and access to treatment, care and support for PLHIVs, many of them members of the LGBT community.
Kapederasyon, for its part, refuses to “wallow in the illusion that the US Supreme Court decision would induce acquiescence to local structures opposed to same-sex marriage, as what the colonially influenced cliques in the Filipino LGBT community insinuate. We in Kapederasyon have always made our position more inclined to legal unions among LGBT people, which will guarantee the protection of the conjugality of properties and possession jointly earned and accumulated by LGBT couples. The safeguards of legal unions are more dependable guarantees in upholding the legal rights of LGBT Filipino couples which should not merely begin and end in same-sex marriage,” Murphy Red said.
In the end, “it’s important for worldwide recognition that the old mindset does not hold any more, but sadly, unless the Malacañan Palace puts on a rainbow light display like the White House did, maybe it will be unequal business as usual,” Fr. Richard Mickley, who helped start the Pride celebrations in the Philippines 21 years ago, ended. – WITH INTERVIEWS BY MDCTan
THIS ARTICLE WAS AMENDED ON JUNE 30 TO INCLUDE THE STATEMENT OF KATE MONTECARLO CORDOVA OF THE ASSOCIATION OF TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN THE PHILIPPINES