By Mherhean Giray, RMIT Journalism student
This year, the annual Metro Manila Pride March which was due to be held on June 27 was cancelled due to the pandemic. The LGBT community in the Philippines and supporters were keen to march and promote same-sex marriage. However not everyone in the Philippines believes that same-sex marriage is important, and there may be several reasons why.
LGBT member Nelson Luz is a devoted Catholic. He lives in a boisterous, humid suburb of Ilocos Norte, in an area known to have friendly people. For more than seventy-two years, Nelson remembers the struggles he went through to accept his sexuality.
Being a queer Christian can be “hurtful and gruelling” to start a life of sin at a young age. He was heading down the road to a life of mess, and it was through faith that he found the warmth of closure in God. His Catholic faith had shown him the core foundation of acceptance in Romans 14:1-2, love in Matthew 22:39 and forgiveness in Colossians 3:12-14. This has helped him shape the person he is today and determine the value of life.
The Philippines has the largest Catholic community in Asia. It is estimated this year by the World Population Review that 81.40 percent of Filipinos are Christian Catholic. The country also has one of the least progressive laws and protection for the queer community, as compared to Australia. After more than two decades of pride marches in the Philippines, social and legal discrimination in the country hasn’t change much.
Growing up in the Philippines, there are still limited legal rights and discrimination that queers experience on a daily basis. Students face homophobic behaviour in school that eventually occurs in the workplace.
The study of Social Weather Stations (SWS) as reported by CNN, showed that 33 percent of Filipinos strongly agrees that people part of the LGBT community do face discrimination, and 27 percent somewhat agrees. While in Australia the LGBT community are protected by the Sex Discrimination Act, 1984.
Every year the LGBT community celebrates Metro Manila pride march to fight and promote equal rights for same sex marriage. It was a time of celebration for queers in 2019 with 70,000 supporters that showed up. During that time, Nelson had not once stepped into the wondrous sensation of loud cheers and colourful music. Instead, he was inclined to ping his support through Facebook on the events of empowerment in the community. When the calls of the LGBT community for Congress to pass the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) bill was declined, he had the same sentiment that it “must be opposed”.
Inquirer’s survey showed that 61 percent of respondents were opposed to same-sex marriage, while 22 percent agreed. In an alternative study, the US-based Pew Research Centre conducted a study which found that 73 percent of Americans are accepting of homosexuality, while there are 27 percent that do not accept.
In Neil Garcia’s book: ‘Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM,’ 1996, and Filipino historian of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Teilhard Paradela, researched the start of evangelisation in the 16th century. He says that the LGBT’s ‘SOGIE’ was not understood in the same way as they are today. They were known as the term “indigenous”. It was the European colonisation that brought about the change of queer in the Philippine islands. The indigenous identities and practises were deemed as a sin, then later in the mid-16th century it was considered as a crime.
Australian Historian Carolyn Brewer’s research in the 15th century was on “Holy Confrontation: Gender and Sexuality in the Philippines, 1521-1685”. When the European missionaries started evangelising in Cebu, the indigenous and females were demonised by them. To reclaim their rights, a new Christianity model was made in the image of the Virgin Mary. Both them and the indigenous, hold the same value of “being male” and “being female” as acceptable. However, the Spanish church re-educated Christians in the 16th century to address indigenous behaviour for using witchcraft. The powers they supposedly possessed were the use of ritual objects in a celebration of Animist ceremonies. They were ridiculed as Spanish Bruja or Bruha (Tagalog: female witch) and “the devil”.
Based on Teilhard research, the Pro-Gay Philippines and the Metro Manila Church (MCC) members were the first to appreciate the Western debate of pride in 1994. By 1996 it was the first Metro Manila Pride March created by ReachOut Foundation for the LGBT community that continued for three years until they passed it down to Task Force Pride. They marched along with Lagablab, a network for advocates in the 2000s, to file for the first Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) in the Philippine congress.
In Ilocos Norte, the attentive Nelson Luz makes his way from home to mass. Through his prayers, he professes to God for forgiveness and to save him from sin as he relives to tell me the time of his past. When he was an innocent young boy at the age of 12, a neighbour, 20 years old, brought him up to his room. For the first time the touch of his skin trapped him, he didn’t have a clue to what was happening. This repeated again for the second time on his mother’s side at 14 years old, his mind represses the pain as nightmares.
Not long after that, he resorted to sexually explicit fanfiction as his addiction, and he couldn’t bear to reminisce the thought of his past experiences. And so he went into a vicious cycle of impure acts with a man thinking “this is what life was”. Just after graduation and landing a job, he went into a casino to play Mahjong. Once he ran out of money, he sold all his stuff to play again and again. His life was collapsing in front of his eyes, “but by God’s grace,” he was rescued. It was at that point he devoted himself to God by going to church, praying, telling his stories, and proclaiming God’s miraculous words. On April 12, 2015, he joined Neocatechumenal Way.
In his defence he does not support same-sex marriage, as he says it’s “harmful”. The purpose of marriage is a covenant between a man and woman, for God made “Adam and Eve” in Genesis and Mark, for the perpetuation of the human race. Throughout his experience, he realised being part of the LGBT community is who he is and “if anyone dislikes it, their loss”.
At the age of 14, he came out to his religiously Catholic family in Cebu Mactan International Airport, and they were very supportive of him. But on the outside, he faced many discriminations from people around him.
In Australia, same sex marriage is legal in Part 1 of the Marriage Amendment Act 2017. However, unlike Australia the law in the Philippines doesn’t give queers the right to marry, and they don’t get specific protections against discriminations, as for elderly women, children, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable individuals. They don’t have gender recognition in their birth certificates unless they are intersex, and it’s proven that they have congenital adrenal hyperplasia before filing the case for a gender change. Jesus argues that an anti-discrimination law can cover these protections for an LGBT members’ identity and rights.
In the Family Code of 1987, Article 1 defined marriage is “between a man and a woman”. At only 33-years-old, Filipino lawyer Jesus Falcis filed a case in the Supreme Court on May 2015, to strike down the definition of marriage under the family code. He recognises same-sex marriage for LGBT couples as a respect for their right to equal protection in the Philippines. It was last year that the Supreme Court declined his proposal because of procedural and technical reasons, but Jesus says the court agreed with him.
“The Constitution does not prohibit same-sex marriage since there is no limitation and definition of marriage under the Constitution as only between a man and a woman”, he said.
LGBT rights are not accepted in the Philippines as they are in Australia. It is however a challenge for the Philippine government to take action against an anti-discrimination bill according to Human Rights Watch. They have to ensure all Filipinos have equal rights. This changes the freedoms of the LGBT community within the rules of a religious tradition.
The contradiction of being a Filipino Catholic Christian and a member of the queer community remains to be a struggle, and for many, the goal for equal rights in the form of same-sex marriage being made legal in the Philippines continues to be a hopeful dream.