MARIKINA CITY, PHILIPPINES — D* and M* have been in same-sex relationships for almost a decade now, but this is both their first time participating in a gay pride parade here in the Philippines.
They say they flocked to the 2018 Metro Manila Pride March on June 30 with friends in part due to the visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) issues in Philippine media in recent days. There’s been more attention after the Philippines High Court heard arguments on a historic petition seeking marriage equality.
“Because of what happened recently, my resolve became stronger — that the community needs to be united,” M* explained in a mix of English and Filipino.
Over two decades have passed since the first organized gay pride march in the Philippines, said to be the first in the region.
But levels of tolerance are not necessarily translating to equality; that is, to LGBTQ people having the same set of demandable rights as heterosexuals.
A local survey released June 30 by nonprofit Social Weather Stations showed only 22% of Filipinos support same-sex marriage in the Philippines.
Same-sex marriage petitioner Jesus Falcis admits he has at times doubted himself, given the barrage of criticisms about how he supposedly failed to consolidate the views of the LGBT community in the Philippines before he filed his historic petition that is expected to set legal precedent on the definition of marriage in the country.
“Sometimes it makes me question if I’m doing the right thing. If I’m going to be the cause for the LGBT movement to suffer setbacks,” petitioner Falcis shared in an interview.
But to partners and pride parade first-timers D* and M*, the rallying call for marriage equality in the Philippines made them feel that they now have a larger stake in the movement.
Concerns on society’s readiness were also raised by critics of Falcis’ court plea challenging the constitutionality of select provisions of the Family Code, which limited marriage to opposite-sex partners.
Philippines Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen even went as far as to imply in his interpellation of same-sex petitioner Jesus Falcis that society or at least the court justices first needed to learn queer theory concepts of gender identity, gender expression and the likes before a reasoned debate about same-sex marriage can commence. This unusually high bar of understanding such theoretical abstractions as a prerequisite to granting a right enjoyed by all shows how disadvantaged the sector is.
Falcis has maintained that society’s readiness is out of the debate. The question, he said in a separate television interview, is not whether heterosexuals are ready for same-sex marriage but whether the LGBTQ community is ready. They are the ones to benefit from the right after all.
M* said marriage would be part of their plan if only it was accessible to people like them. D* and M*, now both mid-career young professionals, have been together for the past 6 months.
For 3 years, M* had always noticed D* at work but never made the first move to avoid workplace complications. In December last year, having thought M* had no interest, D* reached out by messaging M* via social media. The interest, it turned out, was mutual.
Self-proclaimed foreign missionary John Hannula believes people like D* and M* hate God.
Hannula wielded a Bible at the Metro Manila Pride March, as he stood at the venue entrance shouting that “gays, homosexuals, transgenders would all go to hell.”
“I’m here because I’m a missionary,” Hannula, who came from the United States but has been in the Philippines for over two years now, said in an interview. “I’m here not to judge the people,” he said.
“You hate God!” bewailed Hannula each time he pointed his finger at an LGBT supporter who passed by.
Hannula said people have been listening to him here at the pride parade — a claim belied by the loud music blaring through the speakers, the absence of an audience focused on him, and the murmurs of those entering the venue questioning why his small group of “haters” couldn’t just let them celebrate with friends without reproach in the space allotted to them for the duration of the pride march.
“Most of them have said: What’s the point? There’s no God,” Hannula said, insisting he has engaged in productive dialogue with people at the march.
“IT’S NOT OK to be GAY!” read the signage held by one of his companions.
Critics of marriage equality, however, are not confined to those who think of homosexuality as inherently evil. There is division within the movement itself.
Falcis said critics surfaced the same year he filed the same-sex marriage petition before the country’s top court.
The Philippines government through Solicitor-General Jose Calida argued before the Supreme Court that the Constitution defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. While the actual text of the Philippines Charter does not explicitly say this, Mr. Calida said that was the intent of the framers of the Philippines Constitution as shown in a transcript of them voting on the matter.
Justice Marvic Leonen aptly pointed out that the Constitution’s power is derived from the Filipino people, who had ratified by plebiscite the 1987 Constitution. He explained that Filipinos involved in the plebiscite ratified the Charter based on its actual text and not the debates behind its framing. He also pointed out that the outcome of these debates in the framing of the Charter is not necessarily a strict legal prescription but can have persuasive effect on the Constitution’s present interpretation.
But Leonen also tagged Falcis’ petition as “dangerous” for even bringing up the issue. Now, he said, the Court will be forced to rule on what the Constitutional definition of marriage is.
The hope of the movement, of course, is for the Court to rule in favor of marriage equality.
Falcis, who was also present at the pride march, said the initial debate within the Philippine LGBT movement was between prioritizing fighting for an anti-discrimination bill in Congress and fighting for marriage equality. This debate opened up as early as 2015 when he filed his petition.
“Initially, since 2015, I was getting disheartened because of flak from the movement due to disagreement as to strategy and priorities” he explained.
“But now in 2018, more people as in more people have told me they support the cause and are happy that someone is pushing for it,” he added.
John Baluyot, a global product manager at a business firm who is currently in a long-term same-sex relationship with his partner Mark, says he feels bad over lost opportunity more than anything else.
“I live a great life with Mark now, without the [marriage] certificate. But we can live it a lot better especially if that marriage will make it easier for us to adopt kids that we can both parent,” he said in an interview.
“I know we will make great parents and there is so much love in both our families. The kids that we will have, I have a good feeling, will be outstanding citizens, if not more,” he added.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Martires raised a flurry of questions that drove the point of equality during his interpellation of the government’s main defender, Philippines Solicitor-General Jose Calida: “Why do we have to discriminate against same-sex marriage?” “Are not gay people, the lesbians capable of loving like heterosexuals?” “Why are we allowing marriages between criminals and yet will not recognize marriage between a man and a man and a woman and a woman?” “Why is the state so indifferent to the happiness of these people?” “Are we not just affected by our religious beliefs?”
Eighty percent of the Philippines’ population of 100 million are followers of Roman Catholicism, which frowns upon homosexuality.
This drives many to hide their gender identities and suppress expressing these identities when at the company of people they fear would not accept them.
Despite the tight-knit culture their industry is known for, D* and M* started out not being open about their relationship at work.
Workmates eventually learned about their same-sex relationship through social media, and M* has since been relieved he no longer needed to repress his gender identity at least at work.
“The relief was overwhelming. It was as if the entire time I was walking with only one foot, and when I came out, I could finally walk on both feet,” M* explained in Filipino.
He hopes that one day he can do the same before his parents.
But while he’s not there yet and Philippines society has yet to view marriage equality in a positive light, he’s here out and proud in what he feels is a safe space with a community he finally got to publicly celebrate his identity with.
“I feel proud. Finally, I got to experience that feeling that I’m not alone,” M* said about his first gay pride march. (END)
*Interview subjects preferred not to reveal their identities