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Congress faces issue of same-sex union

SAME-sex marriage has long been a controversial issue in the United States (US) and in many other countries in the world. On June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled by a close 5-4 decision that the Constitution guarantees the right of same-sex couples to get married in all 50 states. It overturned a Supreme Court decision of June 26, 2013, which had declared unconstitutional a part of the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage solely as a legal union between a man and a woman. But last Jan. 6, 2016, the Alabama chief justice ordered judges in the state not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It is said to be unclear if Alabama’s judges are following his order.

In the world today, 20 of 194 countries now allow same-sex couples to marry, with the first ceremony taking place in the Netherlands in 2015. The 19 other countries are Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Iceland, Portugal, Denmark, Uruguay, New Zealand, Brazil, France, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, Ireland, the US, and Columbia. It is also legal in parts of Mexico.

It is against this background that Philippine officials and religious leaders are now debating on a bill filed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. Over 150 legislators have reportedly signified their support for the bill which seeks to give same-sex couples the same rights as husbands and wives on inheritance of property, on medical decisions, and on adoption of children.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) headed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas said Catholic lawmakers have a moral duty to oppose the bill. The intent of marriage, said Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, is to form a family and raise children and parents who are of the same gender are “not normal.”

The term “marriage” appears to be at the core of the problem, which is why Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman stressed, the Alvarez bill is for a “civil union,” not a marriage. There are indeed many references in the Bible to marriage between a man and a woman, with the duties of each to the other spelled out. If the Alvarez bill ever makes it through Congress, it must be emphasized for the nation at large that it is all about a civil union that will allow two persons of the same sex to live together and have the same legal rights as a heterosexual couple.

But the legal issue is only part of the controversy. Quite apart from the legal issue is the institution of the family as the basic unit of the Filipino nation. How good will a same-sex civil union be in raising and caring for children? Will it affect somehow our traditional views on other related matters like divorce? Are we ready to cross the line to join the 20 countries with same-sex unions – thereby leaving the company of the 174 countries which prefer to stand by tradition?

The Alvarez bill is one more side of the change that is taking place in our nation today. It is best that it be discussed as openly and as widely as possible to ensure that it is change that we truly want.