Philippines Should Adopt Same-Sex Marriage - Duterte Turnaround Signals Lack of Commitment to LGBT Rights

Carlos H. Conde

Researcher, Asia Division

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday reversed a campaign promise to push for legalization of same-sex marriage. “That [same-sex marriage] won’t work for us. We’re Catholics,” he said in a speech before the Filipino community in Burma. “And there’s the Civil Code, which says that [a man] can only marry a woman.”

During last year’s presidential election campaign, Duterte said he was open to the idea. “If [draft same-sex marriage legislation] reaches me in whatever capacity, I'll consider it,” Duterte said in February 2016. The remark boosted Duterte’s popularity in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and gave credibility to his image as a politician respectful of LGBT rights. Pantaleon Alvarez, the speaker of the House of Representatives and a close Duterte ally, responded by promising to support same-sex marriage legislation.

Critics quickly denounced the president’s turnaround. A Filipino LGBT activist decried the flip-flop as a blow to the LGBT community’s efforts to establish a legal foundation for “property rights and even in caring for children both parties decide to adopt.” While same-sex “holy unions“ do occur in the Philippines, they are not legally recognized under marriage laws, forcing couples to resort to legal instruments including “special power of attorney” documents to provide their relationships a modicum of legal protection. Duterte’s reversal is not just about campaign promises – it jeopardizes the fundamental rights of LGBT partners and families.

Allowing same-sex marriage would enable gays and lesbians in the Philippines to marry the person they love and would strengthen everyone’s rights. From a human rights perspective, broadening civil marriage to couples of the same sex demonstrates respect for the fundamental rights of equality and nondiscrimination. It should be enshrined in Philippine law.

The Philippines should join countries including the United States, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, New Zealand, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, and Ireland, all of which have enshrined marriage equality in their laws. In Asia, lawmakers in Taiwan are mulling a draft law that would legalize same-sex marriage.

Duterte’s backtracking is easily remedied. He and his government should demonstrate the political will to push through legislation to protect the rights of the country’s LGBT population, starting with same-sex marriage.