Saturday, October 22, 2011

Philippines: Asia's Only Christian Country. Bad Excuse.

I have to admit I've grown quite weary of hearing that the Philippines cannot, should not, and will not offer basic civil rights to same-sex couples because A) "It's Asia's only Christian country," and B) "It's a Catholic country."

These are poor excuses to treat a minority group of Filipinos as second-class citizens.

I hate to burst any bubbles, but for starters the Philippines is not the only majority-Christian country in Asia.  Since 2002 it has shared that distinction with East Timor, when that island nation gained its independence from Indonesia.  East Timor (official name Timor-Leste) is 97% Catholic in fact, which beats the Philippines' 80% Catholic rate.  If you count in other Christian denominations, comprising an additional 10% of the Philippines' population, then that takes you to 90% Christian.

So please correct your friends and family when you hear them say the Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia.  It's the biggest Christian country, yes, but it's not the only.

Another way I've heard this line of thought spun, is this:  "We cannot, should not, and will not grant partnership rights to same-sex couples in the Philippines because we're a Catholic country."  Okay then, this calls for some more bubble bursting.

The Republic of the Philippines has no state religion or state church, therefore, by default, it is not an official Catholic country.  It may be a majority-Catholic country (i.e. most Filipinos may be Catholics), but that doesn't make it a "Catholic country."

When it comes to LGBTs having the right to marry or form a legal partnership with the person they love, the "Christianness" or "Catholicness" of a country bears no meaning whatsoever.  Of the 13 countries that either recognize Roman Catholicism as the state religion or give special recognition to the Catholic Church in their constitutions, six of those offer legal partnership protections to same-sex couples.  Three of them (Argentina, Portugal, and Spain) even have full marriage equality.  Furthermore, of the 11 countries in the world that have an official Christian state church -- either Catholic or Protestant -- six of them offer partnership rights to same-sex couples.  That's 55%, for all you number-crunchers out there.

Oh dear.  Looks like even if the Philippines had an official State Church it still wouldn't be a good enough excuse to discriminate against gay couples.

There are 47 countries around the world that are classified as majority-Catholic, of which the Philippines is one.  Of those 47, 26 give their LGBT citizens the right to form legal, government-recognized unions in some form or another.  That's 56%.  Additionally, seven other majority-Catholic countries (Bolivia, Chile, Malta, Peru, Colombia, Cuba, and Poland) have proposed or have submitted bills to grant partnership rights to LGBT couples.  If they succeed, that would make an additional 15%, which would take us to 71% of majority-Catholic countries.

Sixty-four percent of majority-Catholic countries have anti-discrimination laws today
Of equal importance, 29 of the 47 also have anti-discrimination protections in place for LGBTs.  The southern European kingdom of Monaco will become number 30 in February of 2012 when its anti-discrimination bill, which has already been passed by its parliament, is set to come into effect.  So that makes 64% of majority-Catholic countries having anti-discrimination legislation protecting LGBTs.

So the majority-Catholic excuse doesn't impress much.  At the risk of using the word "majority" too much, the majority of majority-Catholic countries are now on the equal rights band wagon.  Okay, maybe 'a plurality of majority-Catholic countries' slides off the tongue a bit easier.

I have even heard it said that the Philippines cannot, should not, and will not grant partnership rights to same-sex couples because "family is very important, we value families and we take the family very seriously."  As a foreigner, that's a rather offensive statement to hear.

Family is important to all of us, and we non-Filipinos take family very seriously, too.  The difference is that many of us Westerners don't limit the definition of family to only one specific form.  It could be argued that we actually value family more, because we support, honor, and protect all families, including those that are different from the majority.  Using "we take family seriously" as an argument in support of discrimination is a weak one because it is, in fact, a double-edged sword.

To close, look at it this way.  Of all the countries in the world which today have same-sex marriage, registered partnerships, or civil unions, 100% of them are majority-Christian.  One-hundred percent.  Of the majority-Muslim countries, 0% offer any form of recognition.  Zero.

My question then, Philippines, is this:  why are you in league with Muslim countries on this issue, rather than joining your fellow Christians around the world in treating gays and lesbians like real people, too?  Being a so-called Christian nation isn't an excuse to deny civil rights to LGBTs, it's actually the exact opposite: it's a rallying cry to fight for civil rights for LGBTs.  Something to think about.


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