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Dulled Out: SOGIE Bill’s Long Fight for Legislation

By: Nine

Cartoon by: Ma. Alyssa Therese S. Manalang

The long battle for equality has withstood the tests of time. Other countries are slowly incorporating it still, if not fully incorporated at this point yet. As tides change and mindsets become more open to what was once considered the ‘norm’ of our society, the Philippines has yet to put into law Senate Bill 689, described as the act prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (SOGIE), which has been in the works still slowly incorporating it, if not fully incorporated since 2000.

The history of the SOGIE Bill can be traced back to its earliest version, the Employment Non-Discrimination Bill. First filed by the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago in 2000, the lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer (LGBTQIA+) community has yet to achieve the equality the bill so desired. It is often countered by religious statements, saying it is unnatural for a person to have romantic affiliations with someone of the same sex.

After its first filing in the 11th Congress, it was refiled on the 14th, wherein it reached the committee level; other senators would file similar bills until the 16th Congress, yet the efforts did not yield the desired outcome. Following the murder of transwoman Jennifer Laude in 2014, then-mayor Herbert Bautista signed the gender-fair ordinance in Quezon City; this became a catalyst for the discussion and action toward a progressive path for transgender rights. Later in 2017, the anti-discrimination bill was passed by the 17th Congress, tallying 197-0 yes-no votes in the House of Representatives.

Last February 8, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva presented letters from concerned religious groups protesting the SOGIE bill. This controversy surrounding Villanueva is not new; he has had allegations for delaying the passage of the bill, which are not baseless as he is known as the son of the founder of the Jesus Is Lord Church Worldwide. The Senate Majority Leader’s antics are considered quite unsporting because, before the bill, there was already an existing clause in the 1987 Philippine Constitution that says that there must be an inviolable separation of the Church and state.

Living in a land of democracy, the distinctive boundaries between the two are respected under the law. This underpins the idea that the Church will uphold the freedom of religion and the liberty not to practice such. At the same time, the government receives protection from unjustified influence from religious institutions. Weaponizing Christianity to promote bigotry juxtaposes the purpose of the law.

In a survey called “The Global Divide on Homosexuality” by the Pew Research Center, 73% of adult Filipinos agree that homosexuality should be accepted by society. However, there is a fine line drawn between acceptance and tolerance towards the LGBTQIA+ community, and right now, the members of the community are usually just tolerated, not widely accepted. A large portion still gets harassed, hence why the senate minority is fighting through Christianity and hypocrisy to provide actual protection towards them.

While we should not dismiss the relevance of pious practices, we should also not use these to justify prejudice that can actually shoot to kill. The current version of the bill is credited to Bataan First District Rep. Geraldine Roman and Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros, who emphasized that marriage is not written in the bill. While same-sex marriage is also an issue within the LGBTQIA+, that matter is for another fight altogether. The struggle of the SOGIE Bill runs beyond these unions. 

Hence, we must keep in mind that provisions from the SOGIE Bill do not provide a special set of laws for the LGBTQIA+ community but rather offer them what the heterosexuals usually have: the sense of peace, the lack of fear of being killed because of their existence, and most importantly – humane treatment despite the labels of inhumanity. It aims to protect all citizens, not put the LGBTQIA+ community on a high pedestal. As the fight for equality advances, the committee’s approval of the bill was confirmed by Rep. Arlene Brosas from the Gabriela party-list last May 23. This turning point may be significant as it takes the fight one step closer to popping the rainbow out after two decades’ worth of storms, but there is still a long way to go before attaining the preferable outcome. 

Though some may not feel the sense of urgency as to why this needs to be passed, the ignorance and barbaric views towards same-sex relationships open a bigger door for bigotry. Compassion should not come with a price – it should be given regardless of who they are, what they want, how they express themselves, and whom they love.

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