By Atty. Clara Rita Padilla
Last April 2, the Uruguay Senate voted in favor of the passage of the law protecting the rights to equality in marriage, officially recognizing the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The lower house previously passed another version of the bill in December and will soon deliberate on the modified version passed by the Senate. The final law is expected to be passed into law soon.
This is a historic step in the recognition of human rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBTs) in a predominantly Catholic/Christian country. Other predominantly Catholic countries that recognize equal marriage rights are Argentina, Belgium, Portugal and Spain. Other predominantly Catholic areas that recognize equal marriage rights are Mexico City and several states in Brazil. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Brazil ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to partnership rights through civil union status. Since then, certain Brazilian states including São Paulo have begun performing same-sex civil marriages.
The right to marry of heterosexual couples is recognized under existing Philippine law and their other related rights are protected under Philippine law as well. Same-sex couples, on the other hand, are denied the right to marry and divorce and other rights such as the right to adopt children, own conjugal properties, intestate succession, immigration, avail of tax exemption, and avail of benefits related to insurance, social security, medical, hospitalization, next-of-kin, burial, among others.
In my work as a human rights lawyer, I have interviewed many women and transgenders in lesbian relationships who are the ones supporting the children of their lesbian partners while the estranged husbands of their lesbian partners deliberately fail to provide support to their estranged wives and children. To me, these women and transgenders are heroes and yet our laws fail to recognize their basic rights.
In very basic rights such as the right to marry, divorce, the full range of reproductive rights (including the right to access contraceptives/emergency contraceptives, safe and legal abortion), our standards should be based on equality, non-discrimination, justice and equal protection of the law. Religion should not be used as an excuse to trample on the rights of others. My God is a just god, one that does not oppress or pass judgments on others. Religion, in its truest essence, should espouse equality, compassion, and fairness, not hatred, prejudice, and self-righteousness.
The very reason why our constitution guarantees separation of church and state and non-establishment of religion is to prohibit the establishment of religion in our law and to guard against the views of any majority or minority religion in influencing our laws. Our constitutional guarantee of non-establishment of religion is significant for us individuals to be able to uphold our right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Until Philippine law recognizes the right to equality in marriage and divorce of LGBTs, there will always be discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. People will always make an excuse to discriminate against LGBTs. Enacting a law that provides equality in marriage and divorce is one step towards ending discrimination and hate crimes against LGBTs. It is an important step towards a humane and just society where people respect the rights of others.
One bill that is now in the bicameral conference committee seeks to prevent discrimination based on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity or other status. The bill upholds human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other relevant core human rights instruments. It affirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in that Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. This bill seeks to end various forms of discrimination including hate crimes. This is a very important piece of legislation that should immediately be passed into law.
In the past years, there have been numerous reports in the Philippines of LGBTs being murdered or beaten and harassed without clear investigations and active prosecution being conducted leading to the perpetuation of abuses with impunity. The Philippines must perform its obligation to prevent, investigate and prosecute human rights abuses including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.