Filipinx Catholics have testified in support of that nation’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) Equality bill now under consideration. One woman religious said the discrimination against LGBTQ people cannot be ignored.
Sr. Mary John Mananzan, a vice president and director of the Institute of Women’s Studies at St. Scholastica College, Manila, testified before a Senate committee hearing about her support for the SOGIE Equality bill. She read a joint statement from “Catholics for Equality” which represented the views of Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College.
ABS CBN News reported that the Mananzan pushed back against the bill’s critics who claim it would discriminate against heterosexual and cisgender people:
” ‘I don’t see that this bill is giving any special right to this group. They are just saying that the rights of everybody should also be applied to them. . .As a religious woman I believe in the respect, compassion, and reverence for all persons because I believe they were all made in the image and likeness of God.’
“Mananzan said while issues on sexual orientation are highly debatable and would entail “unending discussions”, no one can argue that many people who have chosen to freely express their gender identity have been victims of discrimination.
“She explained that heterosexual men would not normally demand equal treatment because ‘it is a fact that they are not discriminated against as gender.’
” ‘Therefore, it is really the one that is discriminated against that is the focus of our attention,’ Mananzan said.
” ‘Even if we are really against the discrimination of anybody, sometimes you have to focus on groups of people that are actually suffering discrimination and violence.’ “
Also testifying in support of LGBTQ non-discrimination protections was Dr. Eva Callueng of Rainbow Catholics Philippines. Manila Bulletin quoted Callueng’s testimony:
” ‘We believe that measures should be put in place to ensure that LGBTIQ+ peoples are given equal rights and are not subject to discrimination and prejudice. The government must play an active role in ensuring that everyone enjoys the same rights and protection. . .Though religion has been used to oppress and block campaigns for an Anti- Discrimination bill, we do not see anything in the bill that runs contrary to the Church’s teachings.’ “
Callueng added that, “in a perfect world we would not even need a law like this,” but the reality is LGBTQ people face severe discrimination that needs to be eliminated.
Acceptance of LGBTQ people in the highly-Catholic Philippines is quite high. Back in 2013, a Pew survey found that 73% of people believed homosexuality should be accepted, and the country has elected a transgender Catholic to the legislature. There have been numerous examples of LGBTQ-positive pastoral care, such as a university president supporting a transgender student and a La Salle Brothers college starting an LGBTQ group. Despite these efforts, it must be noted that Miel Feria of Rainbow Catholics Philippines said belief in “pray the gay away” remains prevalent.
In terms of the Philippines’ bishops, while they have been strongly opposed to marriage equality, many church leaders support other protections for LGBTQ people. Notably in 2014, bishops and leaders of religious communities issued strong calls for justice after a U.S. soldier murdered transgender woman Jennifer Laude. Unlike the U.S. bishops conference, Filipinx bishops issued a statement against the Pulse nighclub massacre in 2016 that acknowledged it was a hate crime targeting LGBTQ people, saying:
“No matter that we may disapprove of the actions, decisions and choices of others, there is absolutely no reason to reject the person, no justification for cruelty, no reason for making outcasts of them. This is a project on which we, in the Philippines, must seriously embark for many are still forced to the peripheries because the norms of ‘decent society’ forbid association with them.”
More relevant to the SOGIE Equality bill, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines sent a pastoral guidance letter to dioceses endorsing the 2015 version of the bill, saying it was a “Christian imperative” to do so. Most recently, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan, vice president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, reiterated the bishops’ support for the bill, but urged a public debate, too:
” ‘So if you are representing people, listen. Listen to your constituents and what they have to say about the issue. So a debate I think is very, very important on the matter.’
“David also underscored that the CBCP has been in support of the anti-discrimination bill and for the recognition of those belonging to the LGBT community.”
But even with high levels of acceptance and repeated calls from Catholics to pass the SOGIE Equality bill, it faces a legislative challenge. Senate President Vicente Sotto III, a Catholic himself, and many other Christian groups remain firmly opposed. Still, it is essential Filipinx Catholics keep up their support for ending LGBTQ discrimination and legalizing civil rights protections. That witness of speaking out itself does tremendous good.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 10, 2019