Philippines: Gays Legally Deemed Immoral and a Danger to Youth

The Philippines Electoral Commission has refused a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens the right to register as a political party to run in the 2010 elections.

In denying the rights of the group Ang Ladlad (Out of the Closet) the Commission quoted verses from the Bible ("vile affectations") and the Koran ("....and we rained down on them a shower of brimstone") and stated that the group "tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs" and encourages "an environment that does not conform to the teachings of our faith..... we cannot compromise the well-being of the greater number of our people, especially the youth."

The Philippines is culturally a strongly Catholic country, but with a Constitution that states there is an inviolable "separation of Church and state" and that "no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights" this rejection is at the very least, a gross denial of constitutional rights for the LGBT community.

Jonas Bagas, a member of imMORAL, a coalition formed to fight the ruling, told the Huffington Post that there is potential for greater impact than the refusal to allow Ang Ladlad political party status. "Right now this is only within the realm of electoral contests, (but) it can eventually be used to interpret other laws, and nothing prevents other government agencies from using the same perspective to discriminate against LGBTs."

By any measure the proposed platform of Ang Ladlad is pretty mild. Not for them scaring the local vicar with the alarming thought of gay marriage or adoption rights. The fledging political outfit merely wants to ensure legislation that would prevent discrimination against gays in the workplace or school. (There are no laws against homosexuality in the Philippines, but there is also no legislation enshrining their rights).

It would be hard to overestimate how the Catholic Church tries to inject itself in every part of a Filipino's daily life. Ongoing attempts to get reproductive health rights passed into law have been met with timidity and fear by parliamentarians who dread the wrath of men in frocks, as opposed to the more pressing considerations of the human rights and dignity of their long suffering and often over burdened constituents.

Jonas Bagas says that the Catholic Church is the strongest political force in the Philippines despite the claims of secularity in the Constitution. "It owns tax-exempt schools, and often mobilizes students and the flock on controversial issues like abortion, contraceptives and same-sex marriage. A huge majority of Filipinos attend mass every week, and the ritual is used by the church to attack politicians that go against its teachings. Filipinos choose which part of the doctrine they follow (for instance, despite a huge campaign by the church against contraceptives, a big majority of Catholic Filipinos are for it) but that does not matter -- the propaganda machine alone is enough to scare and influence politicians."

The ruling against Ang Ladlad provides an interesting test for the future of the Catholic Church's attempts at moral blackmail. As Jonas Bagas says, the Church has become such a pillar of society because of the poor law enforcement and the endemic corruption. "The Church is practically the social security system of the country: it provides education, supports health care, and is perceived to offer help to impoverished communities," he says.

MJ Yap from Lesbian Advocates Philippines says that as well as the traditional Catholic Church, "there has been quite a steady rise in the number of Christian born-agains and protestants similar to those fundamentalist churches in the United States and that is an imminent and big problem."

The Filipino population is one of the most highly educated in the developing world according to the US Department of Commerce. It also has one of the youngest populations in Asia. (You could and should thank the Catholic Church for both these statistics).

Despite the Church's current squirrel-like grip on much of the education system, the combination of upward mobility, youth and schooling may mean that unconstitutional rulings like that against Ang Ladlad will be questioned and challenged by a population no longer compliant to edicts guided from the pulpit.