In the Philippines, a Struggle to Reconcile Faith and Love
Published: December 9, 2010
MANILA — Surrounded by votive candles and flowers, the couple looked resplendent, both wearing Indian kurtas, holding a bouquet together, positively in love.
It was the wedding night, in the garden of a friend’s home in a Manila suburb, of Terence Krishna Lopez and Edwin Quinsayas, a gay couple.
“This is the happiest night, ever,” Mr. Lopez said, beaming as friends gathered around and congratulated the two men.
“We had to take what we have to the next level,” he said later, explaining why he and Mr. Quinsayas had arranged the ceremony, over which a friend officiated. “Why should heterosexual couples get all the fun?”
Across the Philippines, events like this — often referred to as “blessings” or “holy unions” — have become increasingly common as gays and lesbians try to assert their rights in this relatively tolerant, but still legally restrictive, predominantly Roman Catholic country.
Unlike in nearby Malaysia, sodomy between consenting adults is not illegal. Manila and other cities have a vibrant gay scene. Sexual orientation does not provide an exemption from military service.
Still, legislation that would outlaw discrimination against gays in the workplace or housing remains stalled, opposed by the powerful Roman Catholic hierarchy and its allies in the Philippine Congress.
Same-sex unions have no legal standing. The Family Code defines marriage as a union only between a man and a woman. Some Philippine legislators — reacting to the drive to legalize same-sex marriage — have filed bills in the House of Representatives and Senate that would explicitly ban such unions, and, in one proposal, outlaw heterosexual marriages where one partner has undergone a sex change and is therefore not a “natural born” man or woman.
“Marriage has always been between a man and a woman. No law can change that,” said the Rev. Melvin Castro, executive director of the Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, in an interview.
A gay union “is an exercise in futility,” he added. “It’s a ceremony empty of any religious or legal effect.”
But many gay Filipinos have been trying to achieve just that, seeking religious sanction for ceremonies of commitment and applying the law creatively to provide legal protection for relationships.
“This is important to us. Why would anybody want us, who believe in the same God, deprived of this simple joy?” asked Regen Luna, a pastor with the Metropolitan Community Church, a Protestant denomination founded in California in 1968 with a special mission to gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Last year, Pastor Luna presided over a holy union of a dozen gay couples in a resort in Cavite, a province just south of Manila where he grew up and where he has a chapel that serves as an Internet cafe when it is not being used for religious services.
“Unions like this are also held in other M.C.C. chapters in other parts of the Philippines,” Pastor Luna said after the ceremony, which included gay men performing a dance routine.
Such events are not always this elaborate, or as romantic as the one celebrated by Mr. Lopez and Mr. Quinsayas. A few days before their ceremony, a U.S. cleric named Richard Mickley officiated over a holy union of two women inside a Starbucks in Quezon City.
Over coffee, he reminded them of their responsibilities to each other and why their union was important to the Philippine gay community. He and the couple held hands and closed their eyes in prayer.
Most of the Starbucks customers seemed oblivious to what was happening. But Father Mickley, as he is known, said it was as momentous as any of the unions he had overseen since 1994, the year he first solemnized a gay wedding in the Philippines.
“What I do is a religious ceremony,” he said. In deference to Philippine law, “We don’t use the word ‘marriage,”’ he said. “We use ‘holy union’ instead.”