No divorce + no same-sex marriage = no altar date
(Second of a series)
Most women at a young age imagine their dream wedding. Joy Angeles, a chef from Makati City, was one of them.
“I used my blanket as my wedding gown and begged my cousin to play groom,” Angeles said, adding that she gave herself a deadline when she should have been married.
“Between 20 and 23, because that’s when most of my cousins got married and I saw how they enjoyed having kids while they were still young. It’s like they were peers,” she added.
But her wedding fantasies had to take a back seat when she met Bong, her 43-year-old boyfriend who works as a seaman.
“We just celebrated our 11th anniversary, but marriage isn’t on the table at the moment,” said Angeles, now 39. “He’s still waiting for the annulment of his first marriage.”
Other young couples find themselves in a bind. With no divorce law in the country, relationships have remained in limbo, with more and more couples opting to live in or cohabit, an informal arrangement that could have contributed to the declining marriage rate in the country.
Marriage rates dipped by 30 percent from 2003 to 2015, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Parting ways when the relationship doesn’t work is easier and more convenient when the couple is just living in, explained Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who has introduced the latest divorce bill in Congress.
“Because once a marriage fails, there’s no way out,” said the veteran lawmaker.
The Philippines is one of only two remaining states in the world where divorce is not allowed. The other is the Vatican, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.
Though there is no divorce, estranged couples in the Philippines can opt for either a Church annulment or a legal separation, which are both prohibitively expensive and lengthy processes. But while couples whose marriage has been annulled can remarry, legally separated couples cannot.
“Married life is not easy,” retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said.
“It is so difficult, challenging (and) demanding such that more couples are not getting married at all and content themselves with cohabitation and illegitimate children,” he added.
Cruz is the judicial vicar of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal, which acts as an appeals body for Church annulment cases in the Philippines.
The Catholic Church is aware of the trend and conducts mass weddings, or “kasalang-bayan,” every now and then to encourage couples to get married, according to Fr. Jerome Secillano.
Mass baptisms (“binyagang-bayan”) and mass confirmations (“kumpilang-bayan”) are also done for those who need them to fulfill the prerequisites of a church wedding.
“We also continue conducting catechesis in communities or barangays within the parish so that we can impart on them the meaning and importance of marriage,” said Secillano, executive secretary of the Permanent Committee on Public Affairs of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Not a lost cause
Unfortunately, some couples find Church requirements too tedious and complicated, and “view marriage merely as a piece of paper that doesn’t add up to what they perceive as the most essential element in a relationship, which is love,” he said.
But the Church “is confident that just like other trends, this (dip in the number of marriages) will come to pass and will be overcome by prudent interventions and strategies. This is not yet a lost cause, but we must work together to strengthen the family as the basic unit of society,” Secillano said.
Aside from divorce, the ban on same-sex marriages has led gay couples into informal arrangements that do not lead to the altar.
In recent years, there have been calls from various groups to legalize same-sex marriage in the country, which the dominant and influential Catholic Church has vehemently opposed.
“We will continue to teach the sons and daughters of the Church that marriage … is an indissoluble bond of man and woman,” the CBCP president, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said in 2015.
Despite the Church’s position on the matter, Ariel Guban, himself a Catholic who is in a relationship with his boyfriend for eight years now, said that marriage shouldn’t solely be based on one’s gender.
“I believe in marriage and its sanctity. I see marriage as a union defined by common respect, acceptance and love—all of which are what gay people desire and are capable of giving,” said the 30-year-old professor.
Because there are no laws granting same-sex marriages in the country, most gay couples have opted for cohabitation, among them government employees Arlene and Edz, who have lived together for more than three years of their five-year relationship.
For realtor JM Grutas, a legislation from Congress finally allowing such union would be a milestone to the promotion of gay rights in the country, since gay couples would then be equal in the eyes of the law.
“Homosexual and heterosexual couples should enjoy equal privilege and protection under our law. That basic human right [should] not be taken away from anyone just because some religious groups don’t support it,” said the 27-year-old Grutas.
Edz also dispelled the misconception that gay couples just wanted to get married for the sake of it.
She pointed out that more than being legally recognized by the state as a couple, they also wanted to “enjoy the same benefits” that heterosexual couples were getting, which can be as simple as giving her surname to her partner.
Guban said that should the state officially recognize gay couples, it would not only give them security over their conjugal finances and properties but also help them better understand the true meaning of being married.
“I will [probably] be able to better understand the concept of marriage and die knowing that I have been married, loved and enjoyed life without the undying threat of discrimination. Marriage is for everybody. It is not and should not be limited by gender preference,” he said.