MANILA – The head of the Philippines’ House of Representatives on Monday called for laws that would allow the easy dissolution of marriage and the legalization of same-sex unions in the predominantly Catholic country.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez outlined the bills during the opening of the body’s second regular session, urging lawmakers to support it when it is filed. Such legislation is expected to draw strong opposition from the Catholic Church.
“Let us not only aim for landmark legislations, but also seek to address concerns that involve the basic fundamental unit of our society – the family,” he said. “Admittedly, there is a sad reality about some marriages.”
“We do not always get it right the first time around,” he added. “Unfortunately, the present system practically coerces married persons to remain with each other even if the relationship is beyond repair.”
Alvarez said a bill would be filed to allow married persons to “mutually agree to end their marriage subject to the approval of the court,” doing away with the current system that is “extensively adversarial.”
The Philippines is the only country in the world where divorce is not allowed, despite previous proposals by legislators to legalize the measure as a way for couples to get out of a marriage.
Under current Philippine law, couples are only allowed to either get an annulment, which is a tedious and expensive process, or legal separation, which does not allow them to re-marry.
Congressman Lito Atienza immediately objected to the proposal, noting that it was similar to divorce.
“This proposal effectively destroys the institution of marriage in the country,” he said. “This destroys the sanctity, respect and value of the family.”
Alzarez said he will also file a proposed law “that will legally recognize and protect civil partnerships” and support the passage of an anti-discriminatory bill to protect lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT).
“Our citizens should not be excluded from society just because of the person they love,” he said. “They must also be treated with equality before the law.”
Congress should prioritize approving the anti-discrimination bill, which has been pending for 18 years now, said Nap Arnaiz, vice president of Babaylan, an LGBT rights group.
Without a law protecting LGBTs and ensuring they have equal rights, same-sex unions would be “treated as second-hand unions or special and illegitimate unions,” Arnaiz said.
“Assuming that same-sex unions were to be considered legal, what measures will secure that these couples will not be discriminated against in public and by private institutions, or (keep them) safe from violence from conservatives and religious extremists?” Arnaiz added.