The SOGIE Bill: What’s True, What’s False

Uproar ensued in the Senate when Risa Hontiveros, roused by Gretchen Diez’s case, pushed the SOGIE bill anew in the plenary.

Refiling Senate Bill No. 159, otherwise known as the SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity or expression) Equality Bill, the senator seeks protection from gender-based discrimination for Filipinos across the SOGIE spectrum.

But in a country with over 80 million Catholics, and where the church has a colorful history of influencing matters of the state, the bill was met with criticism. To add to the fire, myths and misconceptions abound online, with misleading posts about the SOGIE bill garnering thousands of likes and shares — faster than the bill’s authors could correct them.

So we’ve round up several points of discussion that could help demystify the bill.

Point #1: The SOGIE Bill Does Not Enable Gay Marriage

One of the biggest points against the SOGIE Bill is that it allegedly paves the way for same-sex unions in the Philippines.

Nowhere in the latest version of the bill, however, was same-sex marriage mentioned. Some critics cite Section 5 (g), which classifies the “(denial of) an application for or revoke, on the basis of SOGIE, any government license, authority, clearance, permit, certification, or other similar documents” as a form of discrimination.

With this provision, some assume that denying marriage licenses to gay couples is a form of discrimination. Ergo, this would lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

This is false; it would take more than the SOGIE bill to legalize same-sex civil unions. To allow same-sex civil unions, lawmakers would have to amend the Family Code of the Philippines, which limits marriage to a “union between a man and a woman.”

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition to allow same-sex unions for “lack of standing” and “failing to raise an actual, justiciable controversy.” It would seem that, even if the SOGIE Bill is passed, same-sex unions are still far-off.

Sen. Hontiveros also mentioned that she is willing to add a provision that exempts marriage licenses from the bill.

Point #2: The SOGIE Bill Does Not Curtail Religious Freedoms

Some groups claim that the bill will undercut religious freedoms. Take Catholic schools for instance — will they be penalized for refusing transgender individuals, as is consistent with their beliefs?

The author clarified that this is not the case. The bill will not hold it against religious organizations if they do not accept transgender children. And this is stated in Section 5 (c): it is unlawful to refuse admission or expel a person based on SOGIE, but institutions still have the right to screen based on the academic qualifications of their students.

On top of that, the bill doesn’t explicitly mention anything that seeks to stop any religious activity; it merely defines and penalizes SOGIE-based harassment.

It’s still unclear, however, to what extent the church can declare its stand on homosexuality — without incurring sanctions. As Eddie Villanueva, lawmaker and leader of the Jesus Is Lord Movement, points out, how would Christians⁠ express their faith if they’re threatened with punishment whenever they share their religious beliefs on homosexuality?

Point #3: The SOGIE Bill Does Not Violate the Rights of Heterosexuals

Paano kami?” is the battlecry of heterosexual (straight) critics of the SOGIE Bill. According to them, the bill will accord “special rights” to members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

However, the entire bill doesn’t mention any special privileges for non-heterosexual people. It only protects them from discriminations related to work, education, membership to organizations, health care, basic services, and more. The only thing that it seeks to create is programs that promote non-discrimination, outlined in Section 10.

The bill doesn’t mention anything that takes away the rights of heterosexuals. It seeks only to give LGBTQIA+ members the same rights that are enjoyed (and taken for granted) by heterosexual Filipinos.

Note that the bill, unlike other discrimination laws, focuses on one’s SOGIE. Thus, it only answers for discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. This applies, for instance, when gay men are refused health services because they are gay; when transwomen are refused services at an establishment because they are transgender; when a lesbian is given more severe punishments in school simply because she is a lesbian.

If the discrimination is based on other factors (like ethnicity) other laws would have to be cited.

It’s also worth noting that straight people are part of the SOGIE spectrum, as well. Even though the SOGIE Bill’s agenda is to champion the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, in theory, the bill also covers straight people; they too have a sexual orientation (they’re heterosexual), a gender identity (they’re cisgender), and a gender expression (traditionally masculine or feminine).

Ultimately, the SOGIE bill seeks to benefit everyone, regardless of where they stand on the gender spectrum. But there are still provisions that demand clarifications. No matter how staunch the supporters or how intense the public dissent, the fate of the bill rests on our lawmakers and the president, who once voiced his support for an anti-discrimination law.

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