Filipino LGBT community pushes for same-sex marriage in UK

by Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Jan 24 2013 12:35 PM | Updated as of Jan 24 2013 08:36 PM

LONDON - Filipinos from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are encouraging the UK government to pursue its proposals to legalize same-sex marriage.

A number of Filipino LGBT in London expressed their support for equal marriage in the UK, claiming it is important to their cultural and religious values.

“We are all human beings created by God. We are all the same,” said Vannz Bio, president of the Filipino Lesbian Movement, a London-based LGBT group promoting equal rights in Britain and the Philippines.

Bong Villaram, a Filipino lesbian working as a nanny, added: “I was raised in the Philippines so my values always go back to the blessing of the church. To be blessed and accepted in that context is the highest thing we can achieve in our situation.”

She continued: “We are very lucky to live in a society where there is wider tolerance, love and acceptance for people like us. The decision I made to be true to myself as a lesbian is probably the most honest and truthful thing I’ve done to myself.”

The comments come as the debate for equal marriage continues to heat up, following plans announced by the British government at the end of 2012 to legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Similar plans were announced for Scotland in 2011.

“They should implement [same-sex marriage], and it should have been done a long time ago. We need to be given the freedom to do this, so we can be treated equally as human beings regardless of our sexuality,” said Anaceta Talatala, a Filipino lesbian who has been based in London for 27 years.

Mixed reaction

The plans have been met with mixed reactions from sociopolitical spheres.

While the Conservative prime minister and his cabinet support it, several members of the party have expressed strong opposition against it.

Public opinion is also split according to recent polls. MSN found that 2 out of 3 disagree with the plans, while the Mail On Sunday revealed that 6 out of 10 support it.

There are also numerous campaign groups for both sides.

Church vs State

The most controversial part of the proposal lies with the right for same-sex couples to marry within religious establishments.

The government believes that everyone should have the right to get married in church if they wish, provided it is a loving relationship.

Various religious denominations have expressed concerns over the plans, arguing that it will undermine the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Religious opponents of the bill include the Roman Catholic Church, Church of England, Church of Wales, and the Muslim Council of Great Britain.

“We look to our Members of Parliament to defend, not change, the bond of man and woman in marriage as the essential element of a family,” wrote The Most Reverent Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster Catholic Cathedral, in a recent open letter.

It also stated: “Marriage is rooted in a natural bond blessed by God. Neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself. Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion.”

Meanwhile, some liberal Jewish and Quaker groups publicly showed support for equal marriage by announcing they will accept same-sex unions at their churches.

The government also reassured religious groups that they will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages against their wishes.

Freedom

In the UK, same-sex couples are currently allowed to enter into civil partnership, introduced in 2005, but the government believes it is time to accept same-sex unions as fully-fledged marriages.

“I am in favor of gay marriage. I am a massive supporter of marriage and I don’t want gay people excluded from a great institution,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Civil partnerships have similar legal implications to a marriage, but equal marriage campaigners argue that marriage would provide greater freedom and security.

“There is nothing wrong with civil partnerships, but it would be much better if LGBT couples can have a real church ceremony,” explained Carla Aguinaldo, a transsexual student.

Supporters of equal marriage argue that marriage is a basic human right. It provides stronger legal rights for same-sex couples, as well as having the benefit of being more universally accepted than civil partnerships, which varies from place to place.

“I’m not a religious person, but when freedom is concerned, we should allow everybody to fulfill their wishes. And, of course, if that means getting married in church, then everyone should have that right,” urged Dee Chanelle, a transexual singer and performer.

She concluded: “Freedom is everything, it’s not just in marriage - freedom of speech, freedom of living the life the you want to live. In this country, we have a lot of rights as transgenders, and anyone with this kind of freedom would feel over the moon to know that you can do anything you want within reason. We’re all in pursuit of happiness and that’s what freedom gives.”

A draft of the so-called Equal Marriage Bill is expected to be submitted to the Houses of Parliament in the first quarter of 2013, with the aim of legalizing same-sex marriages by 2015.