By LYN V. RAMO
BAGUIO CITY – One afternoon, the city was almost freezing because of the typhoon Falcon’s heavy rains. Nonetheless, the mercury was rising in a little bar and restaurantbecause of the announced mass holy union of eight same-sex couples.
The ceremeny was the first of its kind on two counts. First, there were not just one but eight pairs of homosexuals, who received the “blessing of the church.”
Second, unlike other gay ceremonies, this allowed the mass media, whose video and still cameras flickered capturing every little detail before, during and after the ceremony.
Four protestant religious leaders, also from the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) community, officiated in the ceremony. Pastors Myke Sotero, and Egay Constantino of the Metropolitan Community Churches of Metro Baguio and Makati, Rev. Ceejay Agbayani of MCC-Quezon City, and Rev. Regen Luna of the Christian Union Church of Cavite City looked as happy as the eight couples when Sotero pronounced the couple “life-time partners.”
The only male couple, 60 year-old Richard McLelland, an American, and Filipino partner Jhon-john Punzal, went through two postponements, but considered the Baguio ceremony the fulfillment of a dream.
Of the seven lesbian couples, only Bhaya de la Cruz, 28 and Shielo Sabaot,30, were willing to give interviews to the mass media.
One of the lesbian couples wore little white dresses; while another pair appeared to be “both-male couples” with their cropped hairdos. The rest looked like the usual man-and-wife couples, with the “grooms” in traditional wedding day suits, their respective “brides” wearing their best Sunday dresses. Three of the couples were locals, the rest from Manila and other cities.
“It is a happy wedding atmosphere,” said an unnamed mother of one of the “brides.” Another one was seen on national television overcoming her shock at the “wedding,” her daughter was part of.
“You two already living together under one roof, now you’re going to wed each other?,” the mother reportedly commented upon learning of her daughter’s plan to tie the proverbial knot in public.
The ceremony lasted for about an hour . The venue was the the Ayuyang Bar and Restaurant of the Baden Powell and it was completely standing-room-only the day before and even after the event. Guests arrived from from Manila, Cebu and other urban places. It was just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Atonement, better referred to as the Baguio Cathedral and the Bishop’s House.
Not heeding the Bible?
Earlier, Catholic Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Vicariate of Baguio City, went on national television saying although he does not discriminate against the LGBT community, he said the “Weddings are not acceptable to the church.”
“It’s fine if there’s only one or three couples seeking marriage. If there are a lot already, we have to address the issue. What are we supposed to do?,” Cenzon said.
Cenzon said the Catholic Church does not allow same-sex marriages since it believes that the Sacrament of Matrimony should only be between a man and a woman.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines – National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal (CBCP-NAMT) was quoted as supporting Cenzon saying the Church will never recognize the said marriages.
“Even if they hold the ceremony ten, 20 or 100 times, those are not marriages,” Cruz reportely said. Cruz also expressed the view that marriage is not for people of the same sex because it “is the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of having children.”
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) media office director Msgr. Pedro Quitorio also said the weddings performed in Baguio City are illegal because these unions are not between a man and a woman as he cited provisions of the country’s Family Code.
Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani has also called on the faithful to boycott same-sex weddings considered immoral and illegal by the Catholic Church. Bacani cited the Philippine Constitution and the Catholic Bible as basis for his condemnation.
“We do not consider this a real marriage. This is only a ceremony of mutual agreement. This is almost like a fake marriage,” Bacani reportedly said.
Besides the Catholic church, several other churches in Baguio and Benguet condemned the holy union of same-sex couples. These include the Evangelical Christian Community Baguio and Benguet; Association of Metro Baguio Christian Ministers, Benguet Evangelical Association of Ministers, La Trinidad Evangelical Association of Ministers and Good News Community Church.
Stirring public opinion
The City Council in the meantime is in disagreement with istelf as members are not united in the call of some others that the couples who partook in the union ceremonies be declared persona-on-grata, pending its own investigation.
In her Facebook page, however, Counclor Pinky Rondez posted a message: “To be persona non grata is to be a social pariah. Branding a person as unacceptable and publicly tagging him as unwelcome in a city wherein he is free to enter and leave by virtue of his being a Filipino is tantamount to imposing a punishment that is not provided by law. ”
The quote is repotedly from the Commission on Human Rights.
Holding their ground
The ceremony between the eight LGBT couples went through a counseling, according to Gregory Rugay, secretary of the MCC-Baguio City. He said to qualify for the ceremony, the couples must have gone steady for at least eight months. Like in the usual marriages, both should not be legally married to anyone else and should have been legally separated or divorced before he or she could “marry” another.
MCC-Metro Baguio’s Myke Sotero clarified that the term the LGBT use for the union is not “marriage” because the LGBT community is aware of the absence of a Philippine law that recognizes same-sex marriages. Sotero said that the MCC offers a safe haven for LGBTs where they could build a relationship with God and live the way they are without discrimination.
Same-sex unions in the Philippines started with lesbians in 1991, with Fr. Richard Mickley. In Baguio City, the first recorded same sex union was solemnized in 2003, benefiting a gay couple.
Legalizing gay unions
A bill in Philippine Congress, House Bill 1483, defines discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and penalizes discriminatory practices. Rep. Teddy Casino and Rep Neri Colmenares, both of Bayan Muna co-authored the anti-discriminatory bill. House Bill 1483 also seeks, among others, to protect gender identity rights and help transgenders get free access to many public facilities that are frequently denied them.
As this developed, New York City has passed its law recognizing same-sex marriages last week, allowing 35 percent of all Americans the right to enjoy the privileges of marriage. New York is the 14th American state to have passed the law. Of the other 44, 30 states have reportedly introduced amendments to laws banning gay marriages.
Other countries that have earlier adopted a similar measure include CanadaCanada, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Portugal, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Finland, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand and Israel.