Ahead of Valentine’s Day, advocates offered rainbow roses to Senators to urge them to act on the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill in the Senate on Tuesday.
Members of civil society and student organizations arrived with a giant heart set up on the Senate gate and small bouquets of rainbow roses with the call “#EqualityNow!” to lobby for Senate Bill No. 935 filed by Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros.
The SOGIE Equality Bill was approved on third and final reading in the House of Representatives on September last year. The measure was authored by Rep. Kaka Bag-ao of the Lone District of Dinagat Islands and Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan Party-List.
“The passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Senate is the biggest Valentine’s Day gift for the LGBTQ+ community in the Philippines,” said Sam Cruz, lead convener of the Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY).
“Love won in the House of Representatives last year with the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill. The Senate should follow suit and hear our clamor for equality,” he added.
For the first time, the bill has reached the floor of the Senate plenary. In the past, it was always stalled in the committee level. Now, it is under the period of debate under second reading.
“The questions on the bill have already been asked and answered all throughout its journey in the legislative mill. This is why the House was able to immediately pass the measure in its second year unanimously,” Justine Balane of Akbayan Party-List said. 197 Representatives voted in favor of the SOGIE Equality Bill, with no dissenting votes or abstentions.
Opponents of the bill have alleged that the bill will allow same-sex unions because of the provision banning discrimination based on SOGIE in the issuance of professional licenses and similar documents. They say that such a provision might include marriage licenses.
“This isn’t the case at all. The subject of marriage equality is an entirely different subject meant to be tackled in an entirely different piece of legislation,” said Balane.
Some also fear that the measure, once enacted, will in turn discriminate against non-LGBTQ+persons.
“Again, this is a misreading of the bill because it intends to protect everyone from discrimination based on SOGIE, and everyone, be they heterosexual or not, possesses SOGIE,” said Cruz.
“Right now, we may have the Bill of Rights and the equal protection clause in the Constitution, but we do not have an enabling law that will allow us to realize these provisions in the form of mechanisms to protect us against discrimination,” he added.
“Huwag tayong paasa sa mga kasapi ng LGBTQ+ community. We are urging our Senators to tackle the SOGIE Equality Bill- a measure that is an expression of love and acceptance- in the plenary and hasten its approval,” ended Balane.