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Op-Ed

You should put a ring on it… or not

Ryan Robert Flores doesn’t believe in gay marriage. But, he stresses, this is “not a comment meant to diminish the significance of any gay union, nor is it an endorsement for the current climate of intolerance against the same.” Instead, “this is but one of a diverse spectrum of responses to the same question, and it begs a little bit of thought.”

I don’t believe in gay marriage.

Sharing a box of KFC, my friend Suzy looks at me incredulously, and asks, “I thought you liked cock?” We laugh as if we just shared a joke. As if that statement was a joke. It wasn’t, I tell her, lest she labored under the illusion that I was kidding. It’s true, I continue, I’ve been with a guy I’m madly in love with for over 11 years. But I don’t want to get married. And not altogether surprisingly, neither does he. When pressed for an explanation, I tell her that I don’t believe in it, in its current form. Her eyebrows raised, she pushes her eyeglasses up on the bridge of her nose, and presses further: “But doesn’t that contradict your principles in fighting for equal rights for the LGBT?”

I tell her it doesn’t. Fighting for equal rights whether one chooses to exercise them or not, is oriented towards the same thing. She still looks unconvinced. I couldn’t help but smile at her discomfort. I don’t believe in gay marriage in the form that it has at present. I happen to think that the institution of marriage as it exists in Philippine society is purely hetero-normative in nature, and it is incompatible with the nuances of a gay relationship: its dynamics as dictated by tradition, law and social norm have all but eliminated the possibility of a claim that a homosexual relationship bears any identity to the same.

This statement is not a comment meant to diminish the significance of any gay union, nor is it an endorsement for the current climate of intolerance against the same. It is an answer to a question commonly posed to homosexual individuals who are open to creating long-term relationships with other homosexual individuals. This is but one of a diverse spectrum of responses to the same question, and it begs a little bit of thought.

We have, for years, been grappling with the herculean task of pushing for equal rights, especially in the context of the legal recognition of same-sex couples as integral parts of the State. It has become the cornerstone issue of many rights-based movements all over the world, and has served as a common, unifying objective of the cause. It is an issue that is fraught with contention, and as such, it is a very difficult question to tackle. It brings together a whole complicated mix of politics, religion, social issues and a wealth of human experience to the same table and forces the people thus empowered by law and governance to define its role to play in the pursuit of a more just and humane society. But a discussion must be started, if we are to stand a chance of seeing same-sex rights be granted within our lifetimes.

I think marriage as defined by our collective consciousness as a nation relies heavily on a prevailing religious context, thus, its exercise must conform to a set of norms dictated primarily by either Christianity or the Muslim faith: in that one man and a woman enters into an agreement whereby they pledge mutual support and entail some very specific obligations that each party must fulfill. These obligations, while veiled in the subsequent secular codification of these religious constructs as an institution for the creation and care of a “Family”, necessarily include the proscription that a man and a woman, integral parties to create offspring, may be the only parties thereof. It is found in our Constitution, in our Family Code, and in the different administrative laws that are built as legal mechanisms to promote the welfare of the State.

This leaves the question of gay marriage squarely in conflict with the prevailing social perception of what marriage is all about. I think it is safe to assume that while the gays and lesbians, who are out, are being tolerated by society. Generally, attitudes towards the granting of full rights to them are still a matter of politics. Case in point: the passage of an anti-discrimination bill through congress is still forthcoming, there is a noticeable lack of any adoption mechanism to allow gay men and women to adopt jointly with their respective partners, and the very noticeable disinterest of our current lawmakers in filing a bill which would even vaguely hint of the possibility of gay marriage in the Philippines.

The common reason for such roadblocks towards full equality regardless of gender lies with the very culture we participate in. People have attributed the Filipino’s hesitation in enacting laws, which would protect a certain group of people specifically from a perceived injustice, to a sense of morality that may or may not be compatible with the ends sought to be achieved. The politics surrounding the gay marriage question stems largely from the public’s inability to see past certain stereotypes, not about the LGBT, but about marriage and its place in the grand scheme of things.

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We have pinned a religious tail on a socio-political donkey.

Marriage as an instrument used in nation building is a completely different animal from marriage as a religious construct. The Bible, the Koran, or any other religious belief, never had, and never will have a monopoly on the concept of marriage. It is not an invention of any one tribe or race. It is a purely sociological means to perpetuate the species, and is a social construct, which is meant to increase the chances of raising strong, healthy and secure members of society to meet the needs of a group. This practice became widespread and has since become imbued with ritual and belief. The codification of marriage in the sociological sense, into religious law was inevitable: there was no other legal framework that exists apart from the prevailing proto-Semitic religion of the group.

With the emergence of the idea that government and religion must be treated separately, and the wall between them be made impermeable, the concept of marriage as a component of a belief structure is well in place, and was not surrendered in the void in between these two worlds. It has retained the patina of being a spiritual act, instead of a political one. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Philippines, one of the last countries on Earth to actually deny married couples the chance to divorce, and why: What God has put together, let no man put asunder. Our legislators may deny this altogether, but it is no secret to all Filipinos that the Church here has held full sway over our government to the point when they can influence public policy.

But the Philippines, unlike before, does not live in a vacuum.

It must be stressed that the international community has shifted its position on the matter: so much so, that the right to marry is now considered a fundamental human right. It removes the concept of marriage away from the spiritual into the secular. In choosing to strip marriage of its ecclesiastic trappings, we find that underlying the religious overtones of marriage, its true nature shines through. That marriage is in itself, an agreement between two people to mutually support one another. While its primary objective was for the perpetuation of the species, it is not an absolute requirement when you look at the more fundamental concepts governing marriage as a right: Choice.

One can choose to get married and one can choose not to.

The argument for equal rights with respect to gay marriage is simple: The choice must be given to those who will ultimately be bound by its consequences. The consequences usually cited by critics of gay marriage are numerous, but all of them share a common thread, in that these fears are merely possibilities. The Church and the State must not be allowed to make that choice for us. Especially so if the perceived damage and the contention that it threatens public order is not readily apparent. It is this right to choose which serves as the nucleus of the gay marriage lobby.

The call for equality is clear: Members of the LGBT community must be given the right to marry whom they choose to marry. Otherwise, with personal freedoms and inalienable rights withheld from these people, these citizens, it is a failure on the part of government to hold up its end of the social contract by serving as an adjunct of a religious belief that marriage should conform to a standard of its own making.

Suzy sighs and asks again: When will you and your partner be married?

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I answer, most likely never.

And that’s the truth. The thought of gathering friends and family together on a beach somewhere is horrifically tacky and maudlin to me, especially since I personally feel it’s an empty gesture without any actual recognition from the State. The thought of flying off to the US or Europe is equally pointless to us since the State won’t recognize it and will not accord the rights attendant to the fact.

But that doesn’t mean that YOU shouldn’t, or that the law, regardless of its good intentions against some imagined fear of “opening the floodgates” to more calls for the normalization of any deviance in the prevailing hetero-normative sexual preference, should stop you from exercising your inalienable right to pursue happiness.

If you like it then YOU should put a ring on it. Not anyone else.

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