Philippine Speaker of the House of Representatives, Pantaleon Alvarez, has proposed new bills which would legalize “the easy dissolution of a marriage” and recognize same-sex civil unions in Asia’s largest Catholic country.
Alvarez is a key ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has had a contentious relationship with the nation’s bishops since he announced he was going to run for president in 2016.
If the civil unions law is passed, the Philippines would be the first country in southeast Asia to allow same-sex couples to have legal recognition.
The Philippines is the only country in the world — except for the Vatican — to have no divorce law, although it does all for marriage annulments.
“We must also be considerate of the fact that marriage may not be for everyone,” Alvarez said on Monday. “Presently, it even excludes certain groups of people from its fold. Our citizens should not be excluded from society just because of the person they love. They must also be treated with equality before the law.”
Over the past decade, there have been attempts to pass laws recognizing same-sex relationships and divorce in the Philippines, and all have failed to gain traction in the nation’s legislature.
A poll conducted by Laylo Research Strategies in 2015 found 70 percent of the people in the Philippines “strongly” opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage in the country. The same polling firm found that 67 percent of the population also opposed passing a divorce law.
However, both polls – the most recent available – were taken before the rise of Duterte, who enjoys support from the vast majority of the population.
Duterte has spent most of his presidency thumbing his nose at the nation’s bishops, once saying, “If you want to go to heaven, then go to [the bishops] … I will go to hell. Come join me.”
The president’s remarks came after the Church opposed his policy of allowing the police and army to extra-judicially kill low-level drug dealers (over 7,000 have been killed by police or unknown vigilantes since he took office, according to international human rights groups).
Duterte has also supported government-funded contraception and the reinstatement of the death penalty, both in the face of strong opposition from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
A statement on divorce on the CBCP website states: “Society should be able to count on some promises as irrevocable.
“The promise of a physician to serve life and not to destroy it, the promise of a public official to serve and defend the Constitution, the promise of spouses to be faithful to each other, the promise of a priest to mirror to the world the care of the Good Shepherd – all these are promises that society has the right to rely on and that those who so promise have no right to renege on,” the statement says.
Alvarez has claimed his proposal is for a “quick dissolution” of marriage – to be used instead of the lengthy annulment process currently allowed in the Philippines – and it is “not really a divorce,” since it must be petitioned for jointly by the couple.
The Archbishop emeritus of Lingayen-Dagupan, Oscar Cruz called this “divorce in camouflage.”
“The dissolution of marriage is when the marriage bond is rendered ineffective,” said the archbishop, who currently serves as the head judge of the Church’s national appellate marriage tribunal.
“If it is not a divorce, then what is it?” Cruz asked, as reported in The Inquirer.
Although the Philippines does not currently have a divorce law, legislation exists which recognizes the rights of ethnic minorities to “preserve and develop their cultures, traditions and institutions.” This means the nation’s Muslim minority and some tribal people are allowed to practice their own marriage traditions, which can include divorce and polygamy.