1 - What causes homosexuality?  Why are some people gay?

You may read a more detailed analysis here; what follows below is an overview.

All current scientific data point firmly toward a biological cause for homosexuality, partly by genetics but largely by hormonal influences in the womb. Some will never accept this, but nevertheless it is what it is. The facts simply do not lie.

Data point to what is known in the medical/scientific community as the neurohormonal theory. An extreme summary is that, embryologically speaking, we all develop as a result of a number of hormones (androgens, estrogen, etc.) which are introduced at various stages of development. These not only distinguish the anatomical sex of the baby-to-be, but also the internal workings of its systems, including the neurological system which is controlled by the brain.

All studies to date have shown strong evidence – backed up by subsequent peer-reviewed research – of the key role the anterior hypothalamus plays in this, which isn't entirely surprising given that the hypothalamus is the seat of human emotion, expression, desire, and love. Of particular importance is the INAH region (the interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus). This area of the brain, developed by a series of hormones working in concert at different times of fetal development, shows remarkable evidence in size variance of the nuclei. In homosexual men, these nuclei are the same size as those in heterosexual women. Among lesbians, the nuclei are larger, corresponding to those of heterosexual males.

Furthermore, pheromone studies conducted in Sweden, Australia, the Netherlands, and the U.S., back this up. They have shown that when lesbian women are introduced to an estrogen-based derivative hormone through scent, the anterior hypothalamus reacts in the exact same way a heterosexual man's does. Gay men and heterosexual women show no reaction. Conversely, when gay men are introduced to an androgen-based derivative (such as that found in male sweat) their anterior hypothalamus reacts in the same manner as heterosexual women, while lesbian women and straight men show no reaction.

Pheromone and INAH research done on animals shows the exact same results: corresponding cell sizes and anterior hypothalamic reactions. Given these advances and others listed in the main discussion page on this topic, coupled with the fact that of all animal species thoroughly researched not one has been found in which homosexual behavior does not exist, science is moving faster than many religious conservatives would like to acknowledge. 

2 - Can gay people turn straight?
I'll answer this with a question: Can straight people turn gay? As a straight man I know it would be impossible for me to suddenly (or even slowly) “go gay,” because I'm hardwired as a heterosexual. If you are a heterosexual reading this, ask yourself if you could flip a switch and turn gay. The answer is most likely an emphatic no, unless you're in fact bisexual.

Why then do we pose the same question upon those who have a homosexual orientation? Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is an inborn orientation as shown by modern science, and as such is virtually impossible to simply “switch off.” Not only is it highly insensitive to ask a gay person to become straight, but it is also potentially dangerous to the mental health and well-being of that individual.

Many homosexuals in decades past felt compelled to hide their orientation because of societal disapproval and discrimination, and opted to enter into dishonest heterosexual relationships and marriages in order to hide, to “appear normal,” and even in hopes that they may eventually become straight. The results were tragic. Just as was the case in Ang Lee's movie “Brokeback Mountain,” set in 1950s and 60s rural America with the love shared between Jake Gyllenhaal's character and the late Heath Ledger's character, most of these fake “straight” marriages were plagued with problems and ended badly. This is because they were founded on dishonesty, and the secret homosexual orientations didn't simply fade away. In generations past, many homosexuals entered into dishonest straight marriages in order to hide or escape social stigmatization. They lived as “heterosexuals,” but they certainly weren't heterosexual.

There are some Christian groups (such as Exodus International, for example) who claim to offer a cure for homosexuality by spiritual means. This is known as reparative therapy or conversion therapy. Essentially, they claim they can help homosexuals “pray the gay away.” But these so-called ex-gay groups have been found to do more harm than good. The American, Canadian, Australian, and European Psychiatric Associations back this up, stating that scarce evidence can be found that any participants experience any true or lasting change. Also, the “therapeutic methods” employed by ex-gay groups can cause great inner turmoil and mental stress in participants, who are told that their sexuality is a sin that they must overcome through spiritual warfare lest they be cut off from God. This is tragic and terribly damaging on both a psychological and spiritual level, and studies show that it is patently untrue and ineffective.

The American Psychiatric Association is opposed to reparative therapy, stating in 1998 that:

"homosexuality is not a diagnosable mental disorder. Recent publicized efforts to repathologize homosexuality by claiming that it can be cured are often guided not by rigorous scientific or psychiatric research, but sometimes by religious and political forces opposed to full civil rights for gay men and lesbians".

The Association also states that "the potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

In my own country, the General Assembly of the Norwegian Psychiatric Association voted overwhelmingly for the following position statement on "conversion therapy" in 2000:

"Homosexuality is no disorder or illness, and can therefore not be subject to treatment. A 'treatment' with the only aim of changing sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual must be regarded as ethical malpractice, and has no place in the health system."

Additionally, the British Medical Association recently issued a scathing rebuke of reparative therapy.

Interestingly, I was unable to find any official statement on homosexuality by the Philippine Psychiatric Association, Psychological Association, or Medical Association. Make of that what you will. I wrote to them asking for their official positions, but have yet to hear anything back.  According to Filipino Dr. Jose Florante Leyson, "today, the Philippines is still, to a large extent, a macho society, and macho men detest gays, whom they see as effeminate and “strange.” For a majority of the population, including locally trained physicians, psychologists, and social workers, homosexuality is viewed as a perversion and a disease."

3 - How can you call yourself a person of faith and still support gay rights and marriage?

Because I agree with the premise posed by former Catholic priest Daniel Helminiak: one should not have to surrender one's God-given mind in order to be a faithful believer.

I intentionally did not want to get into theological arguments either for or against this issue, but rather desired to focus on the fact-based scientific information that can be tested, researched, and proven. Theological arguments cannot because they are based on the supernatural. That doesn't mean they're invalid or untrue, it just means they're unscientific because they cannot be tested and therefore cannot be either proven or disproved. Also, religion is understandably a relentlessly touchy subject for millions of people, myself included, and both sides have a tendency to “dig their heels in” and simply shout at the other side. That's not very productive, or Christ-like for that matter.

However, I concede that the question will inevitably pop up, so I can try to address it to the best of my ability in a summarized format. Perhaps in the future I could expound upon it, but for now this will do.

Because faith is fluid, different people have very different views, oftentimes on the very same topic. We could line up ten different Christians from ten different places, backgrounds, and denominations, and ask them each to give the “Christian view” on any given issue, and we'd be likely to get ten different answers. Some Christians are staunchly fundamentalist, some are liberal, and others are somewhere in between. It is a touchy subject to say the least, and of course, everyone thinks their own view is the right one.

A quick overview of my own thoughts on the matter goes like this. In spite of what some may continually shout, you may be surprised to learn that the Bible doesn't say anything to the effect that being gay is a sin. It doesn't speak of homosexual orientation in any way, mainly because homosexuality wasn't identified as a distinct sexual orientation until the late 1800s. The word “homosexual” didn't even exist until around 1890.

Does the Bible condemn gay sex? It absolutely does. It condemns homogenital acts in the exact same way it condemns heterogenital acts, in 5 areas: promiscuity and adultery, prostitution, idolatrous temple prostitution, pederasty, and rape, such as was the case in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah. These five acts are clearly condemned within the Bible. What is unfortunate is that even though the Bible also condemns heterosexual rape, prostitution, promiscuity, and adultery, no one bothers declaring that heterosexuality is immoral and heterosexuals worthy of hell. But when those same acts are condemned in a homosexual setting, many straight Christians are all too quick to declare that ALL homosexuality is immoral, period. Such a blanket condemnation is perplexing, illogical, and quite frankly careless. It is tied to the incorrect assumption that orientation and behavior are one and the same.

Many have a very hard time distinguishing orientation from behavior. The two are not inextricably linked. Gay and lesbian individuals are not merely a behavior or series of acts; they are people. Their orientation is homosexual, but that fact does not encompass the entirety of their being; it is in fact a small portion of who they are. It does not mean they are perverted or sexually deviant or wanton sex maniacs. Behavior is separate from orientation.

The great Christian author C.S. Lewis had it right when he wrote that “sex in itself cannot be moral or immoral any more than gravitation or nutrition.” It is simply sex, an act. What is moral or immoral, however, is the motivation behind the sex act. In this light sex can be either decent or indecent, appropriate or inappropriate. Orientation in and of itself is entirely amoral (neutral). The person living within the framework of that orientation, however, has the choice to use it in both moral and immoral ways.

A heterosexual orientation, too, is amoral in and of itself, but if a straight person focuses his or her desires upon achieving an immoral sex act (which, for most Christians, would include one-night stands, adultery, rape, etc.) he or she has then used the amoral act of sex for an immoral action. Ergo, according to biblical definitions of morality, he or she has acted immorally. If we flip that, the same is then also true for homosexuals. The same standard applies for all humans. Humans are humans, and as shown in Galatians 3:28, God views everyone on an even keel – not even taking gender into account.

When the Bible condemns heterogenital rape and heterogenital prostitution, it is not a blanket condemnation of heterosexuality in general. This is crystal clear. Equally, when the Bible condemns homogenital rape and homogenital prostitution it is not a blanket condemnation of homosexuality in general.

Another problem that arises is that many biblical edicts have either been lost in translation or mistranslated, taken out of their cultural context, or even willfully singled out above all others. Perhaps I could give examples of those in the future, if time permits.

Suffice it to say for now that my faith and my inclusive views regarding homosexuals, gay rights, and same-sex marriage are in fact entirely compatible. I know many very decent, upstanding, moral gay and lesbian Christians (my cousin and his husband are among them), and their devotion and compassion far exceeds many straight people I know who claim to be Christian.

I consider this in light of powerful biblical verses such as Jesus' own words that we shall know a tree by its fruit, because no good tree bears bad fruit and no bad tree bears good fruit, as well as directives that we are to judge not lest we be judged, that we are to treat our fellow man the way that we wish to be treated, and that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord and believes, shall be saved. It is therefore that I have no problem calling myself a person of faith who proudly supports across the board equality for the LGBT community. Some may disagree with me and that is perfectly all right. The fact remains that I do not consider myself to be pro-equality in spite of my Christian faith, but pro-equality precisely because of my Christian faith.

4 - How many people are actually gay?

This is pretty much impossible to state with accuracy, just as it is impossible to state with accuracy exactly how many people are straight. The famed Dr. Kinsey proposed that 10% of any given population is homosexual. This figure has been tossed back and forth for decades. Personally, biologically speaking, I believe that the 10% figure is a fair assessment, albeit maybe just a bit generous. If human rates of homosexuality are on par with those found in the rest of the animal kingdom (see next question), which research has shown to indeed be the case, then a 6-9% range is appropriate. Given that humans do not differ in any significant biological way from apes or other mammals for that matter, the likelihood is only increased. Exact numbers of course are hard to come by.

The latest findings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that 90% of the American populace identify as heterosexual. The report also showed that 1% of the U.S. population is intersexed, and a portion of those individuals are hermaphrodites, i.e. having both male and female genitalia from birth. Following that data, approximately 9% of the U.S. population would identify as either homosexual or bisexual. Of course, some persons may have given false information (stating they are heterosexual when they are in fact homosexual or bisexual) for any number of reasons: fear of being outed, fear of discrimination, being an extremely private person, or even being in a state of self-denial.

In any case, I think it is safe to say that somewhere between 6 and 8% of people are gay. (Or just meet in the middle and say 7% if you like.)

5 - But homosexuality is unnatural, is it not?

What do we find when we look to nature? If homosexuality is indeed a vile and unnatural choice, it should hold true that animals, who act purely on instinct, would show no deviation from the pure and perfect, normal heterosexual standard.

Petter Bockman, professor of Zoology at the University of Oslo and Scientific Advisor to the Museum of Natural History in Oslo, Norway, says that the facts have been staring scientists in the face for years. The problem, he contends, is that when researchers are confronted by homosexual behavior, they choose to ignore it. They claim it is irrelevant to their work, or fear ridicule or the loss of their grants if they draw attention to it. They prefer to describe two animals of the same sex frolicking with each other as competition, a form of greeting or “ritualized combat” — even when we are talking full anal intercourse with ejaculation.

But today the ice is starting to crack, and more biologists are unveiling their findings and taking a look at the undeniable facts. Truth be known, there is actually no species on earth (save for hermaphroditic and asexual species) in which homosexuality is not known to exist, and has been thoroughly documented in over 500 species and growing. Any notion that homosexuality is a uniquely human, chosen trait, is quickly drawn into serious question.

Take swans, for example, the very symbols of romantic love. A fifth of all couples are male-male or female-female. Twenty-five percent of all Australian black swan family units are homosexual. The frequency of homosexual couples is true for penguins, seagulls, blue jays, owls, storks, and all other species of birds. Homosexual male flamingoes and swans are well documented as forming life-long romantic partnerships. One of the partners may engage in a one-night stand with a female in order to produce eggs, and after the eggs are laid the female is chased off and the two males rear the offspring together. Among other birds, such as seagulls and penguins, non-paired females will frequently leave their eggs in the nests of female-female or male-male couples for rearing, rather than in female-male nests. Researchers have observed that homosexual couples are often better at raising the young than heterosexual ones.

Sea otters, kangaroos, bats, deer, dolphins, whales, apes, lions, giraffes, dogs, rats, koalas…every species of animal and insect that we know of exhibits homosexuality. What tends to be incredibly interesting is the fact that the percentage of homosexuals per species is more or less on par with the percentages we find in the human race as well. While near impossible to determine an exact percentage among humans, the best estimates place the exclusively homosexual portion of any given society between 6-8%. The rates are the same in the animal kingdom. Lions and sheep, for example, have an 8% homosexual populace. Merely coicidence? Or may some larger, biological aspect be at work?

Primates are, of course, the easiest species to observe, due in part to their many similarities with our own. Bonobo chimpanzees are almost entirely bisexual, though solid, long-term partnerships among members of the same sex fall into the 9% range. Certain male macaques and apes show clear and exclusive preference for other males, oftentimes forming bonds that extend well beyond non-sexual pacts. Same-sex couples are well documented among the primates, as are a variety of homogenital sex acts, including anal intercourse, mutual masturbation, and even fellatio.

Homosexual bonds can be tight. Among male rhesus macaques, crab-eating macaques, bottlenose dolphins, cheetahs and black-headed gulls with homosexual bonded partners, the members of the pair exhibited considerable distress at being separated from their partners. In all cases, the individuals ignored numerous opposite-sex partners offered them, and showed considerable joy and exuberance at the reintroduction of their partners. Same-sex pairs of animals kiss and caress each other with obvious affection and tenderness. Male pairs and female pairs form long-lasting pair-bonds and reject, threaten, even fight off potential opposite-sex partners when they are presented with them. Same-sex partners engage in almost every conceivable means of sexual expression throughout the animal kingdom.

Counter-arguments and answers

Pseudo-heterosexuality. This claims that homosexuality in animals is the result of a shortage of, or unavailability of, heterosexual mates. But in many species with skewed sex ratios, homosexuality is often seen more frequently in the sex which is in shorter supply rather than in the sex with a surplus of individuals. In other species, the other sex does not form homosexual bonds when it is in surplus. Furthermore, in other species, homosexual mountings occur with the same frequency regardless of whether there is a surplus, and sometimes even more frequently among balanced populations than skewed ones. Pseudo-heterosexuality?...no, more like pseudo-intelligence on their part.

Deprived of heterosexuality. This argument postulates that lower ranked males are deprived of the opportunity to mate and therefore turn to other males for sexual satisfaction. The problem with this argument is that in many species in which harem-guarding occurs, there is no difference between higher ranking males and lower ranking ones as to the frequency of their homosexual mountings. This has been demonstrated notably in musk oxen, American bison, and New Zealand sea lions, among others. Among female homosexual pairs of Japanese macaques and Hanuman langurs engaging in homosexual behaviors, males approaching the pair may be threatened or even attacked.

Mistaken identity. This one’s a stretch; as a biologist I feel sorry for anyone who would actually attempt to make an intelligent argument based on this. This argument seeks to explain animal homosexuality by claiming that the same-sex partner is “confused” and unable to identify a member of the opposite sex. The problem here is that in nearly every animal the difference between the sexes are obvious; as clear as the difference between male and female humans. Vastly different body color, shape, scent and size (not to mention anatomy) are obvious clues, yet in these species homosexual bonds still form, even when body shape precludes easy homosexual mounting. Another problem with this hypothesis is the fact that homosexual couples often engage in very different courtship rituals than do heterosexual couples. If it were a case of mistaken identity, how would this happen? In the case of bisexual animals, it has been seen that two sets of courtship rituals are used by the same individual when courting homosexual versus heterosexual partners. This would not happen if the problem were a case of mistaken identity.

Gross abnormalities of behavior. This argument seeks to label homosexual behavior as a pathology. People looking into this hypothesis often examine animals for genital abnormalities, on the assumption that there is some kind of hormonal imbalance. The fact is that they rarely ever find abnormalities, never with enough frequency for it to be statistically meaningful. That's because of the mistaken assumption by some that homosexuality is some sort of hermaphroditic condition. Biologically it is not, and that's why they never find what they're looking for.

If homosexuality were a manifestation of a disease process, why is homosexuality observed in roughly the same degree in captive populations versus wild populations, or in diverse wild populations? Whatever would be causing the “disease” cannot be equally present in all cases, both in the field and in the wild, so differences in occurrence should show up. But they do not. Surprise surprise.

Population control. Lastly we have this sorry tale, the problem with which is that field observations directly counter it. It has been observed in ochre-bellied flycatchers and ruffed grouse populations, among others, that even when opposite-sex partners, territories, and breeding grounds are all available, some individuals (that magical 8%, +/- 2%) still form homosexual bonds, and the ratio by which they do rarely differs even when the population is under stress.

The discussion of the prevalence of homosexuality in nature is certainly a valid one, because it counters one of the main arguments that gay rights/same-sex marriage opponents make. Countless times I've heard religious conservatives say “Homosexuality is just unnatural; even the animals are smart enough to know better than that!” Well, as a biologist I'll have to ask them to bite the bullet on this one, because there are gay animals...even gay birds and gay bees.

6 - Is it true that an absent or distant father, or a domineering or overprotective mother, causes boys to become gay?

This assumption is based loosely on Dr. Sigmund Freud's hypothesis which attempted to explain homosexuality in the early 1900s, before any of today's scientific research had been conducted.  Freud himself didn't tout the theory very much, saying his sampling was small and unreliable.  Unfortunately, many religious conservatives continue to cling to the Freudian psychoanalytical approach, even though no modern-day psychological associations (including the American, Australian, British, Canadian, and European Psychological Associations) support it.

Freud's basic assumption was picked up and carried further by a man named Irving Bieber (no relation to teen idol Justin Bieber), who wrote a book on the topic in 1962.  It was this book, based on Bieber's thoughts on the matter, that fully promoted the "overbearing mother/weak father" myth.  I concretely am able to call it a myth because that is exactly what it is considered to be today, as it has been thoroughly discredited and is no longer even taught in Western universities.  Before his death in 1991, Bieber himself said that he was incorrect in the theory he laid forth in 1962.

The suggestion was/is that a weak or absent father or a domineering mother is responsible for a boy's eventual homosexuality, and a weak mother is the root of female homosexuality. The argument is that a child's unmet emotional needs will gradually be expressed in homosexual attraction, and supporters of this view assume from the start that poor relationships between parents and child is the cause and homosexuality is the effect. They claim that this is proven by the fact that gay men tend to have poor relationships with their fathers.

This may be true for some individuals, but as Psychology Today states, supporters “attribute virtually all male homosexuality to poor father-son relationships, failing to present any hard data to support their assertion and ignoring the possibility that fathers avoid effeminate sons – in other words, that homosexual tendencies cause bad father-son relations and not vice versa.”

Another thing that must also be taken into account is that the psychoanalytical approach fails to explain why many homosexual men and women have strong and healthy relationships with their parents, or why many children who were raised in solid family structures with wonderful parents nevertheless grow up to be homosexual. My cousin is one such example – raised in a loving home with two great parents, no mental, physical or sexual abuse, went to Sunday school every week, has played football all his life, had no negative body image, no fear of girls, and he was never “girly” or effeminate. Nevertheless he is gay. Freud's/Bieber's approach cannot answer for that.

Furthermore, the psychoanalytical approach does not explain why homosexuality is found throughout nature.  It fails also to explain homosexuality in other cultures such as Micronesia, Samoa, tribal Africa, Native America, Siberia, New Guinea, and the Bugis culture of Indonesia.

The vast majority of sociologists today have abandoned the psychoanalytical approach, as well as the peer-labeling theory for homosexuality. Most now argue that there appears to be little flexibility in sexual orientation and that biology obviously plays a role in its development. Rather than focusing on causes of homosexuality, sociologists are increasingly interested in how homosexuality is expressed in a society and in the societal response to homosexuals.

The psychoanalytical approach is the basis most commonly heard in the Philippines to explain homosexuality, in no small part due to the fact that the Roman Catholic Church supports the view. This is unfortunate, especially when the main promoter of the view abandoned it in the 1980s.  Considering that we are now in the year 2011, it would be far better to make use of valid scientific research that is available today – which is much more substantiated and fact-based – than to continue to cling to an outdated view from 1905 which the vast majority of psychologists do not even support.

The official statement of the American Psychological Association concerning Freud's psychoanalytical theory sums it well:

“Various theories have proposed differing sources for sexual orientation, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors and life experiences during early childhood. However, many scientists share the view that sexual orientation is shaped for most people at an early age through complex interactions of biological, psychological and social factors.”

7 - Where are same-sex civil unions and marriages legal today?

There are at present (June 2012) eleven countries that have full marriage equality (i.e. homosexual marriages equal to heterosexual marriages): the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Canada, Spain, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Iceland, Argentina, and Denmark. In addition to that there are certain cities and states/territories within various countries that allow same-sex marriage, including: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, and Washington D.C. in the U.S., as well as Mexico City and the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico.  Meanwhile, Israel and Uruguay do not have marriage equality, but recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries.  Brazil does the same on a case by case basis, per the discretion of individual judges.

There are also 24 countries that allow civil unions (e.g. France, Germany, the U.K., and New Zealand, to name a few), which confer many of the same rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Several other countries provide same-sex couples with de facto cohabitation status, such as Australia.  Furthermore, the U.S. states of California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin allow same-sex civil unions, and California, Maryland, and New Mexico recognize same-sex marriages performed in other U.S. states or other countries.

Europe 2012: countries shaded dark blue have marriage equality; light blue have civil unions; red (former Soviet states) limit marriage to one man and one woman

Civil unions are good, but they are not marriages. Some civil unions are weak, allowing the formation of legal partnerships before a judge but not much more. Some civil unions are strong, such as those in California and the U.K., which allow not only legal partnership but also all the rights of marriage, including adoption rights. Nevertheless they are not classified as marriages, and essentially create a “separate but somewhat equal” class of citizens.

One of the best statements I have read on civil unions is by British human rights advocate Peter Tatchell:  "Imagine the outcry there would be if the government reserved marriage for white people and introduced a separate partnership register for black couples. It would rightly provoke accusations of racism and apartheid.  [The difference between] marriage and civil partnerships are a form of sexual apartheid. They enforce separate laws for heterosexuals and homosexuals, perpetuating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation."

Soon a civil union bill is to be introduced in parliament in Chile. In July 2010, Ireland enacted civil unions, as did Liechtenstein in March of 2011.  The governments of Finland, Slovenia, and Luxembourg have announced that they will soon be proposing same-sex marriage legislation.  France is set to have equal marriage by the spring of 2013, and the U.K. likely by 2014.  And even Malta, the most Catholic of Catholic countries (98% Catholic in fact) has announced it will likely be working on cohabitation legislation soon, according to its Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

As far as Asia goes, the wheels of equality are turning much slower. The Taiwanese government had proposed a same-sex marriage bill, but the legislation was stalled because of political wrangling and as of 2012 has not moved forward. Nonetheless Taiwan is known to be one of the most gay-friendly countries in Asia.  It has anti-discrimination laws in place and teaches LGBT human rights in schools.  It is expected that the country will eventually pass a same-sex marriage bill.

Nepal may actually be the first Asian country to allow same-sex marriage after its new constitution is drafted and ratified. The new constitution was supposed to be completed by June of 2010, but the deadline was not met because of political party disagreements.

Of particular pride to me, a delegation of representatives from the Nepalese government traveled to my country, Norway, in late August of 2010, to meet with Norwegian politicians.  The Nepalese delegation wished to discuss with the Norwegian government about the best way to make marriage equality a reality in Nepal, using the successful Norwegian gender-neutral marriage law as a model to follow.

In 2009 Japan was actually the first Asian country to give official recognition to certain same-sex couples by allowing Japanese citizens who get married overseas to register those marriages with their government once they arrive back in Japan. The qualifier is that at least one of the parties must be a Japanese citizen, and the other a citizen of a country where same-sex marriage is legal. Once married overseas, same-sex couples in Japan can now be recognized as married by the Japanese government, and entitled to the same rights and benefits as other married couples in the country. This was actually a big step forward for gay rights in Asia, though the story was largely not picked up by foreign media.

8 - Are there more gay people in the Philippines than other parts of the world?

No, there is no evidence to support this. The difference in the Philippines, and Thailand too for that matter, is the high percentage of transvestitism practiced in these countries. To be sure though, there are more transvestites in the Philippines and Thailand compared to other parts of the world. But not all transvestites are homosexual – the vast majority are transgendered and/or transsexual.

Seeing so many transvestites, transgendered individuals, and transsexuals in both the cities and the countryside, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Philippines and Thailand have markedly larger gay populations than, for example, Western countries. The percentages though are undoubtedly on par with other parts of the world (see question 4 above), including countries with oppressive regimes like Iran and North Korea which claim to have “no homosexuality” because it is a “Western disease.”

9 - Will the Philippines ever have same-sex marriage?

Trying to answer this question is a bit like reading tea leaves. The short answer: not any time soon. But do I think it will eventually happen? Yes. I am not a political analyst, but I think that within the next 20 years the Philippines may have some type of legal recognition for same-sex couples (most likely in the form of some type of registered partnership). Full marriage equality just isn't feasible in the Philippines for probably at least the next 40 years. This may seem pessimistic, but it's also realistic.

Things are changing in the Philippines, but change comes slowly. Even in the U.S., which is far more progressive than the Philippines, full marriage equality has not yet been achieved on a national level. There are still many states that are quite conservative and will not perform or recognize same-sex marriages. In the U.S. I have been told that the matter will most likely be resolved in the U.S. Supreme Court in the not-too-distant future, the way it was in Canada. The Court also had to step in to resolve (affirmatively) the battle over legalizing interracial marriage in America in 1967.

The Philippine government, however, (especially the legislative and judicial branches) are still full of social conservatives. The Congress can't even garner enough votes to pass a simple anti-discrimination bill which has been floating around for a decade. The PH Supreme Court, too, is very conservative. A case in 2008 highlighted this. There was a male-to-female transsexual Filipino who had undergone sexual reassignment surgery in Thailand in 2001, and had sought to legally change her sex and name on her birth certificate and other government documents. A lower court ruled in her favor, but the decision was quickly appealed to the SC by the Solicitor General. The SC then reversed the lower court's ruling, essentially denying her the right to legally be a woman.

In the decision the Court stated, among other things: “Marriage, one of the most sacred social institutions, is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman. One of its essential requisites is the legal capacity of the contracting parties who must be a male and a female. To grant the changes sought by [plaintiff] will greatly alter the laws on marriage and family relations. It will allow the union of a man with another man who has undergone sex reassignment.” Considering that one of the men is no longer a man, I don't see how this argument makes any sense. But yes, wouldn't that be awful: allowing people to make decisions for their own lives without government intrusion.

This ruling wasn't a split decision, it was 13-2, which shows the staunch conservative stance of the Philippine SC on social issues. In short, it is realistically inconceivable that marriage equality will come any time soon through the legislature or judiciary. I believe it will take an entirely new generation of Filipinos to come into power before things change. Hopefully the younger generation is growing up more fair-minded, so that when the time comes for them to take the reigns of government they can take steps toward granting equality to all Filipinos.

The Philippines is a truly beautiful country, and the Filipino people are some of the most hospitable and warmhearted people I've ever met.  It is for this reason that I am optimistic that, in the long run, equality will be achieved for LGBTs in the country

It will eventually happen, but these things do take time. You may hear of more and more countries granting marriage equality around the world and get understandably impatient, frustrated, and even discouraged. But that change did not come overnight. There was much work and lobbying and grassroots campaigning that went on in those countries since the beginning of the American/European gay rights movement in 1969. We often do not see all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the process, but only the end result.

As an example, in my own country of Norway, marriage equality came on a wave of support that grew in the country over the years. Norway was the second country in the world to legalize registered partnerships (civil unions) back in 1993. Those were in force until the new gender-neutral marriage law was passed by parliament in 2008. Fifteen years had passed from the time that civil unions were in place, to the time that full marriage equality was achieved. And we're not even counting the years of work in the late 80s and early 90s that went into the passage of the initial Partnership Act. The Norwegian Anti-Discrimination Act was made law way back in 1981, so there were twelve years that transpired from its passage until civil unions were put in place. Other countries that have marriage equality today followed similar patterns of time and grassroots efforts.

So you see, change does not come overnight; it comes as a wave that rides on years and years of very hard work, as societies are educated about the biological causes of homosexuality and minds begin to open. So first get an anti-discrimination law passed in the Philippines, then work toward civil unions, and then toward marriage equality. But it will have to be worked for, and it will be hard work indeed because minority rights are rarely just “given.” Step by step equality will come. It is inevitable.

10 - Why do some states in America have same-sex marriage while other states have banned it?

This comes down to two main things: puritanism and federalism.  When the two meet, as they do in the US, you'll see a state by state patch-work of different laws regarding social issues.

The US is a federal republic, as opposed to the Philippines which is a unitary republic, or Norway which is a unitary constitutional monarchy.  This means that in the US each state has a great deal of autonomy.  Each state has its own legislature (such as California's, which is pictured to the left) with state congressmen and state senators, each state has a governor who acts as a type of mini-president and can veto or sign into law any bills that his or her state's legislature passes, and each state has its own constitution, state courts, and state Supreme Court.  This is why laws change from state to state. 

You might be driving in one state and the speed limit is 70 mph, but then when you cross into the next state you notice the law changes and the speed limit may drop to 55 mph.  But it's not just minor laws that the states can set, there are also bigger ones.

Each state has the right to make its own laws regarding alcohol and drugs, gun ownership, late-term abortion (but not early-term abortion which is legal in all states by US Supreme Court order), age of consent, property taxes, and yes, marriage.  According to an American friend of mine, the only thing states cannot rule autonomously on are making treaties or doing business with foreign countries, creating their own postal service, printing their own money, and making immigration policy.  Those are the domain of the federal government in Washington, DC.

So this is why some states allow civil unions or same-sex marriage, others recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries, and some states choose not to perform or recognize same-sex unions at all.  The exact same situation existed through the first half of the 20th-century, too, with interracial marriage.  Some states allowed it, others banned it.  It wasn't until 1967, when the US Supreme Court ruled that all states must allow interracial marriage, that it became legal in the whole country.  Many feel that the same scenario will be played out with same-sex marriage, too, and that the US Supreme Court will ultimately decide what will be the law of the whole land on the issue.

The other reason I mentioned is that the US has a lot of puritanism.  That's an old-fashioned way of saying religious conservatism. 

The Puritans were a very conservative Protestant group which left England and Holland in the 1600s and went to the American colonies in order to be free to practice their form of Christianity without government interference.  They felt their form of protestantism was a "pure" form, thus the name Puritan and puritanism.

The Puritans were very conservative and traditional, and were the dominant religious order in the New World in the early colonial days of America.  That brand of religious conservatism, blended with political activism, is still alive and well in the US today as the Religious Right or Christian Conservative movement.  Some states are traditionally more conservative or puritanical than others, and those are the states that have bans on same-sex marriage.

The US system is interesting but it can also be a bit confusing because the laws often change from one state to another, and then the federal government tries not to upset anyone by passing laws that may infringe on the states' rights to determine many things on their own.  In any case, that is why the US has a mix-match of laws regarding same-sex marriage...at least until the US Supreme Court decides to make a final, nationwide ruling.

11 - Is same-sex content censored in Norway?

Well, actually nothing is truly "censored" in Norway, or most other European countries for that matter.  I have found that in the Philippines -- in movies and on TV -- there is tons of censorship, and Philippine censors tend to be very oversensitive and strict.  Such is not the case in Norway.

In Norway, basically anything goes.  Government censorship is forbidden by law because it is an infringement upon free speech.  The only things on TV that may be altered, are scenes of excessive/degrading violence toward humans or abuse of any kind toward animals.  But nudity is commonly seen on TV, even during the day.  The flash of a breast in a commercial for shower gel, or a full view of someone's naked butt during a sitcom -- such things are common.  After 9:30PM there is even softcore porn on some channels.  We do not censor bad language either.

In the U.S., on the other hand, it is pretty much the exact opposite.  Sex, nudity, and bad words are censored, but violence is not.  A survey done a few years ago found that the number one thing Americans didn't want kids to see on TV is two guys kissing.  The same survey in Norway listed violence as the thing parents were concerned with, not sex or kissing.  I cannot understand why Americans (or anyone) would be more comfortable with seeing people being beaten, mugged, knifed and shot on TV, than with seeing a simple kiss.  

So let me get this straight:  you have to protect your kids from filth.  If your kids see a one-second kiss between two people who love each other their minds will be polluted, but if they watch someone on TV point a gun at someone else's head, pull the trigger, and blast his brains out, that's perfectly all right.  Wow.  That's scary.  Just a thought here:  Maybe that's why American society is so much more violent than Scandinavia.....

Norwegians, like all Scandinavians, are very big on fairness and equality.  So same-sex couples are given equal representation in Norwegian TV shows and movies.  You can of course see male-female couples kissing on TV, and you can also see male-male and female-female couples kissing, too.  Our thought in Norway is: be fair and do not discriminate.  Period.  If a network is going to show men and women being intimate, then it must be fair and also show gay and lesbian couples doing the same.  If you choose to show men and women kissing, but at the same time you censor out two men kissing, that is unnecessary censorship and discriminatory.

As seen on Norwegian TV..
In the eyes of a Norwegian like me, Philippine TV shows, movies, and commercials, are quite discriminatory.  You can always see men and women kissing and being sweet and intimate, but never two men or two women.  Heterosexual couples are always represented in shows and commercials, but one never sees a same-sex couple.  If there is a foreign sitcom or movie aired that shows two men or two women being "too intimate," the Philippine censors will panic and clip it out.  This is discrimination, plain and simple.

Personally, I hate censorship because it reflects and enforces bigotry and discriminatory attitudes.  It is undemocratic.  It's as if the government is trying to be our mommy and "protect" us from the things THEY think we shouldn't see or hear.  Censorship in the Philippines is a relic of the past, and it should have died with the Marcos era.  Hopefully someday Filipinos will finally demand that it end.


Katrina said... Best Blogger Tips

Response to question number two: I'm a med student in Manila and it's true that you will have a VERY difficult time to find some POSITIVE statements about homosexuality from those Phil. associations. The main reason: they are afraid of the wrath of the church.

Davis Michael said... Best Blogger Tips

But Pinoy gays can not even get organized together about this! They are not a unified front for marriage rights, and some do not even want this right for some reasons. How can we even get a true movement when the right hand isnt working together with the left hand????

Erik said... Best Blogger Tips

Good point, Davis. Clearly the Filipino LGBT community should be unified on this. After all this is dealing with a basic civil right. I'm not an activist-analyst, so trying to strategise on that might be a bit above my pay grade. There are of course some people who aren't interested in getting married to anyone, and that's perfectly fine. There are a lot of Westerners nowadays who have no interest in formal marriage – many simply cohabit together with their monogamous partner, and even raise children, all without ever getting married. It's really not a big deal anymore.

The majority, however, do choose to wed, either in a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony, because of the legal security and state benefits that marriage brings. I'm inclined to think that, if given the opportunity, most Filipinos who are in same-sex relationships would opt to marry. The rights and benefits alone are convincing, including inheritance rights, SSS pension rights, annuities, tax benefits of joint income filing, the right to make spousal medical decisions, health insurance coverage for spouses, judicial protections, bereavement or sick leave for spouse or child, wrongful death benefits of spouse, decision making power for a deceased spouse, and immigration/emigration rights, just to name a few.

It's important to remember that the advancement of civil rights and equality is for everyone as a whole. Just because some LGBT persons say they don't want to get married, they should not assume that marriage is unimportant to other gays and lesbians. If a person would rather remain outside the bonds of marriage that is perfectly okay, but the right should be extended to everyone regardless, so that each person can decide for him- or herself whether to take that step or not.

For example look at what Boy Abunda has said. He and his partner have been together for over 25 years, and he says they do not wish to get married. Granted, he and his partner are both very wealthy, so many of the state benefits of marriage which would be of great assistance to average Filipino couples wouldn't really make a difference to him and his partner. However, he goes on to say that he will fight for same-sex marriage so that future generations of gay and lesbian Filipinos may hopefully be able to have the opportunities that he never did. I believe he has the right attitude: whether you personally want to marry or not, fight for the right nonetheless for the benefit of everyone. A society of equality is so much better than a society of inequality.

Marriage is a personal choice (and I think it happens to be a very good one), and everyone should have the equal right to be able to make that choice. Good luck to you, Davis Michael. Maybe you could help to lead the way in the Philippines.

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