Sotto doubts Pope Francis’ civil union stance will have effect on PH legislation

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 22) — Even Pope Francis’ stance on civil unions may not be enough to convince Filipino lawmakers to pass a bill to make same-sex union legal.

“I doubt it” was Senate President Tito Sotto’s response when asked if the head of the Catholic Church's endorsement of same-sex civil unions will have an effect on legislation in the Philippines -- a predominantly Catholic country.

Sotto said while not legally recognized, same-sex marriage is already practiced here in the country, and it should remain that way.

“Same-sex union is already being practiced here and there is nothing we can do about it. Same-sex marriage is the one which is not acceptable to many religions and other sectors,” the legislator said.

“It's just tolerated but not in the legal sense. We should leave it at that. Baka mapaginitan pa (It might be a subject of ridicule),” he added.

Mixed reactions

But two lawmakers at the House of Representatives believe that with Pope’s latest comments, measures on civil partnerships namely House Bills 1357 and 2264, which are pending before the Committee on Women and Gender Equality, could finally move forward.

“The public support of Pope Francis for the enactment of civil union laws could be exactly the impetus needed so that opposition to the civil partnership bill will melt away,” Bagong Henerasyon Party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy said in a statement.

“With Pope Francis (the leader of the Roman Catholic Church) sharing his thoughts about this issue, let us be optimistic that more legislators in the House and in the Senate become open and supportive to the objectives of House Bill 2264,” Davao Del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, author of HB 2264, said in a statement.

“Our LGBT brothers and sisters deserve to have protections, under the law, for their respective union with the person they choose to be their life partner,” Alvarez added.

Liza Diño-Seguerra, an LGBTQ+ rights advocate, welcomed Pope Francis' statement, adding that she hopes it will help not only in legalizing same-sex civil unions in the country, but also allowing Churches to interpret the Bible without discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community.

Liza, who is also in a same-sex union with singer Ice Seguerra, said she frequently faced discrimination in the country over the years because of her marriage, which took place in the US.

"Kami personally 'yung experience namin, laging kino-quote 'yung Bible [We have personally experienced others quoting the Bible against us], and siguro 'yung [maybe the] endorsement ni Pope would help us revisit (the Bible) on how sometimes we take it too literally," she told CNN Philippines' News Night.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that it is up to Congress whether they want to legalize civil unions for LGBTQ couples.

“But with no less than the Pope supporting it, I think even the most conservative of Catholics in Congress should no longer have a basis for objecting,” he noted.


Despite the Pope's pronouncement, Theology Professor Mike Asis of the Ateneo De Manila University clarified that this does not necessarily mean that Pope Francis is advocating for same-sex marriage under the Church.

Asis surmised that Pope Francis may have just offered his support for civil unions as a concession to same-sex couples so their rights can be legally protected.

"Si Francis kaya niya inapprove 'yung civil union among homosexuals, parang alternative sa same-sex marriage na hindi tinatanggap ng Simbahan, hindi rin tinatanggap ni Francis," Asis told CNN Philippines News.PH. "So in effect parang sinasabi ni Francis na pinoprotektahan ko 'yung turo ng Simbahan."

[Translation: Francis approved civil unions among homosexuals as a kind of alternative to same-sex marriage which is not accepted by the Church or Francis. So in effect, it seems Francis is saying that he is still protecting the teachings of the Church.]

However, Asis said the Pope's statement is still a positive development, since his words would comfort not just the LGBTQ+ community but those in the "peripheries."

On the other hand, Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Public Affairs Committee, said it is “still early to comment” on the Pope’s reported pronouncement.

Pope Francis made the historic remarks, which contradict teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that he leads, in a new documentary film, "Francesco," which was released in Rome on Wednesday, CNN reported, citing the Catholic News Agency. The Catholic Church has long held the position that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis advocated for civil unions as an alternative to same-sex marriages, but this is the first time as Pope that he has directly come out in favor of them, CNN added.

OPINION: How to read Pope Francis' message of love for LGBTQ people

CNN Philippines' Catherine A. Modesto, Janine Peralta and Joyce Ilas contributed to this report