MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said it supports a proposed anti-discrimination law as long as it rejects second-class treatment for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
The CBCP, however, said it cannot encourage choosing one's gender and performing homosexual acts, among other things. It explained that gender and sexuality “must be counted as God’s gift.”
The CBCP also asserted its “exclusive right” to choose priests “even on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
“Insofar as the proposed piece of legislation renders illegitimate the relegation of persons with sexual orientation and gender identity issues to citizens of a lower category enjoying fewer rights, the CBCP cannot but lend its support to this proposed legislative measure,” CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement Tuesday, March 3.
Villegas said an anti-discrimination law is a “gesture of charity” if discrimination means “that certain individuals, because of sexual orientation or gender identity, are systematically denied fundamental human rights.”
He then urged priests to care for all, including the LGBT community, and warned parents against imbuing in children “the loathing and disgust” for the LGBT.
He instructed Catholic schools, for their part, to implement a “zero-tolerance” policy against “the bullying and badgering of persons in such personal situations.”
Villegas explained that treating the members of the LGBT community as outcasts “certainly does not conform to Pope Francis’ vision of the Church as the sacrament of divine mercy and compassion.”
“Persons with homosexual orientation are sons and daughters of God; no less than any of us is. Discrimination against them is contrary to the Gospel spirit. Verbal and physical violence against them is an offense against the good Lord Himself,” the archbishop said.
Villegas issued this statement as the anti-discrimination bill passed the committee level at the House of Representatives on February 11. This means congressmen can begin to debate on the bill in the plenary.
The bill “seeks to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” the bill's principal author, Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao, said in a statement.
Gender is 'God's gift'
While it rejects a second-class treatment for the LGBT, however, the CBCP also said it wants to contest a “common fallacy.”
“Today, it is not uncommon to hear the assertion that the way a person chooses to live his or her life and with which gender to identify is purely a matter of personal sovereignty and choice. Much is left to choice, but much is also a matter of human given-ness, a matter of human facticity. From the perspective of Divine Revelation, much is not of the person’s doing but must be counted as God’s gift. Among these are sexuality and gender,” Villegas said.
He then pointed out that while psychology and psychiatry “are far from unanimous” on these topics, “it is as clear that the individual is not helpless in this regard.”
“On the basis of its understanding of the human condition, the Church cannot encourage persons to 'choose' their gender, orientation, and sexual identity as if these were matters at the free disposal of choice,” he said.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines gender identity as “one's sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender.” In the Philippines, gender identity issues resurfaced after the murder of transgender woman Jennifer Laude, who was born male but preferred a female identity.
The APA says sexual orientation “refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted.”
Given the CBCP's stance, Villegas urged parents, counselors, psychologists, and priests, among others, to help resolve “very difficult personal issues.” He said this should be done “always with understanding, compassion, acceptance of the inherent worth of the human person, and attentiveness to what has been revealed to us about the human person.”
'None must be demeaned'
Villegas also stressed that the Catholic Church prohibits homosexual acts and gay marriage.
“If 'gay rights' movements, for instance, encourage free and unbridled sexual relations between persons of the same sex, the Church cannot lend its support, for in its view, they ultimately do a disservice to our brothers and sisters. What gay rights can legitimately champion is justice for all, fairness that must extend to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.
He added that the Catholic Church considers certain matters “to be within its exclusive sphere of competence.” These matters include ordaining priests and admitting members into religious communities.
Villegas added: “The Church asserts its exclusive right to determine its own criteria and to exclude even on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity if it finds these to be hindrances to the fidelity that is expected of ordained or consecrated persons. We believe that the Constitution of the Republic guarantees this under the 'free exercise' clause of the fundamental law of the land.”
He also said Catholic schools “remain at liberty to determine their own admission and retention policies on the basis of the manner in which the Supreme Court of the Philippines has developed the constitutional guarantee of academic freedom.”
“We must, however, reiterate that none must be demeaned, embarrassed, or humiliated for reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity,” the archbishop said.
'Promoting equality is moral'
Bag-ao, for her part, pointed out that nothing in the anti-discrimination bill “grants recognition to same-sex marriage”
“This important and long overdue measure simply seeks to protect basic rights of citizens. It does not ask for special rights,” Bag-ao said in a statement on February 10.
She described the passage of the bill at the House committee level as a “victory for all citizens” because it will protect their rights “regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Jonas Bagas, executive director of the non-governmental organization The Library Foundation (TLF) Share, said the Philippines needs an anti-discrimination law to curb abuses, for example, by Catholic schools.
“The opposition from the Catholic Church, whose schools have persistently argued that they should be allowed to practice their faith in selecting students and teachers, shows that a climate of discrimination prevails. The constitutional equal protection clause is not self-enabling, and we need a law to ensure that this important constitutional guarantee is enforced,” Bagas said in a statement on February 11.
He added it is a lie to claim that the anti-discrimination bill is “providing a backdoor entry to legally recognize same-sex marriage.” “While we believe that same-sex relationships are equally valid and legitimate, granting them legal recognition would require a separate law.”
Bagas said, “Religious groups have always invoked public morality as basis to block the bill, when clearly, for many Filipinos, promoting equality is the moral thing to do.” – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org