Friday, September 23, 2011

President Aquino on Same-sex Marriage

President Benigno Aquino III
I know that I usually write a lot of negative posts about the status quo in the Philippines.  It's not that I do so by choice, it's just because there's usually very little good news to report when it comes to LGBT rights in the country.  I wish I could post good and optimistic articles all the time, but, unfortunately, it's not a reality.

But President Aquino's trip to the U.S., which he just returned from early this morning, did manage to catch my attention because of something he said about same-sex couples... and it wasn't all bad.

During an open forum following his speech at the Asian Society in New York City, President Aquino was asked for his thoughts on same-sex marriage.  After obvious hesitation and attempts to wiggle out of the question, he finally relented and said this:

"Gay marriage... I don't think I'm ready to tackle that fight right now.  But it is their choice.  Normally I would say, you're adults, you should be able to do whatever you want so long as it doesn't hurt anybody else."
That made my eyebrows rise.  The president of the Philippines giving tacit approval of same-sex marriage?! Jot this day down in the history books because I don't think that's EVER happened.  My respect for Mr. Aquino shot up about a hundred points after hearing that!  Granted, this is just his personal opinion and not something he plans to push for legislatively, but the mere fact that he said it out loud is quite remarkable and worthy of noting.

It was also refreshing that he didn't give an answer that was mixed with church-talk, i.e. 'religiousy' viewpoints.  Neither did he use some half-assed compromise term like "partnerships" -- he actually used the word marriage.

Then... well, then he takes a nosedive into narrow-minded land.

"But if the next step is [that they] want the right to adopt, then I would be in a dilemma as to whether or not the child that will grow up in this world with a lot of problems would also have to, from the get-go, address that particular issue also at a very young age.
My priority would be looking after the child who has a very tender and impressionable mind."

He had jumped a hundred points in my mind after statement A, then after statement B he lost at least half of those points.

And so, it's a mix of maturity and immaturity from the president.  He agrees that adults should be allowed to do what they want, but he also thinks it can be harmful to children.

Mr. President, I cordially invite you to visit my country, Norway.  Since you just got back to the Philippines from the U.S., you can pack some fresh clothes and re-fuel the jet, then come right on over.  You can visit with the children of married same-sex couples, interview them, see how they perform in school, and see if they are well-adjusted in their social life.  You could even observe my cousin and his family (his husband and their young child).  You'll see a loving home with a happy, healthy child who has two wonderful dads.  It's not much of a dilemma, Mr. President.  It's only a dilemma for people who make it a dilemma, and the cause of that is prejudice based on fear and a lack of education on the matter.

Children are tender and they are impressionable, this much is true.  But the problem is not that they are harmed by seeing two people in love; they are harmed by the judgments, discrimination, and bias that many societies heap upon same-sex families.  Kids don't have a problem with two men or two women marrying.  They don't make a big deal out of it (I've seen this time and time again in Europe).  They just don't care.  If there's love, they understand that, and that's all that matters.  Adults are the ones who may have the problem with it.  Adults carry societal prejudices and jitters.  Kids don't.

In children, tolerance is instinctive; bigotry is not.  The former is cultivated, the latter is taught.
Kindness and empathy do not have to be taught to children, because it's something that we all have from birth.  As humans we naturally want to learn, to understand, to reach out.  It does, however, need to be cultivated, encouraged, and built upon as children grow -- if it's not, it can be lost.  Tolerance is instinctive; bigotry is not.  Bigotry, racism, fear, prejudice...all those things are learned.  If a child is surrounded by them through messages they hear at home, in church, in their classroom, or through stereotypes they see on TV, then that natural compassion and tolerance will be drowned out.

At the present, adoption of children by same-sex couples is not allowed in the Philippines.  In accordance with Section 7 of the Domestic Adoption Act (R.A. 8552) and Article 185 of the Family Code, only married couples can adopt jointly, and preference is given to practicing Roman Catholics.  The Adoption Board will not consider same-sex couples, including foreign same-sex couples who are lawfully married.

I hope that President Aquino continues to evolve on this issue.  I also hope that he becomes willing to take a stand for same-sex couples' rights when he's in the Philippines, not just when he's speaking to Western audiences.  I hope he leads his country forward on this issue, and a good place to start would be to strongly advocate for the passage of HB 1483:  the Anti-Discrimination Bill.  

Aquino has compassion in him, I can see it and I can hear it in his voice.  He could have great influence if he would only use it.

I encourage any Filipinos reading this to write a quick note to your president.  Let him know how much you appreciate his openness and forward-thinking attitude on same-sex couples' rights, and encourage him to keep it up and have the courage to stand up for the rights of ALL Filipinos.  You can easily do so by using this message form for emails to the president.

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