EXPLAINER: Same-sex Marriage vs Same-sex Civil Union: What’s the Difference?

By Kristina Manalo

While more and more individuals in the modern world are accepting that gender is more than just being a man or a woman, Filipinos in same-sex partnerships still need to travel to countries where same-sex marriage is legal in order to get married. Why might there not be a law that gives same-sex couples in the Philippines the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, such as the capacity to wed and start a family? What really distinguishes same-sex marriage from same-sex civil unions, and which should our nation legalize first? Here’s what you need to know about these two.


1.) Defining the two


A. What is same-sex marriage? 

Same-sex marriage is a legal marriage between two people of the same sex. It can be male to male or female to female. The ceremony for sealing the marriage is performed before a judge or any official who has the power bestowed by the law. In some cases, selected churches perform ceremonies for this kind of marriage, like the Scottish Episcopal Church in Scotland, the United Reformed Church in England, and the Quakers in Britain. However, Catholicism, the largest Christian religion in the world with 1.36 billion followers (17.7% of the world's population), doesn't allow same-sex weddings inside its church. As of 2022, there are 34 countries out of 195 countries around the world that legalize same-sex marriage. This includes countries like Taiwan, the only Asian country that embraces marriage equality; Chile, which legalized it just this year (2022); Costa Rica; New Zealand; England; the US; Germany; and more.


B. What is same-sex civil union?

A same-sex civil union is an official, marriage-like connection between two people of the same sex. Same-sex couples who enter into a civil union would get the same benefits as married heterosexual couples, such as the level of rights, benefits, obligations, and responsibilities given to them by the state where it was legalized. Currently, there are more than ten states in the world that recognize same-sex unions but not same-sex marriage. These are Andorra, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Montenegro, the Dutch state of Aruba, San Marino, and the British territories of Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.


2.)  Similarities

a. Couples who practice either same-sex marriage or same-sex civil union have the same right to be treated as a legal couple in states that accept it.

b. Both relationships will be granted the right to cohabitate, enjoy certain rights and privileges at work, consent to medical procedures, and even visitation privileges in hospitals and detention centers. Asset statements give parties who form civil unions the opportunity to specify how they intend to divide property. However, it may also depend on the country’s existing laws. 

c. While both have the legal right to adopt children, the process can differ based on the state’s current adoption legislation. For instance, only 27 of the 32 nations that recognized same-sex marriage permitted joint adoptions. Additionally, in five more nations, some type of step-child adoption is permitted for same-sex couples.


3.)  Differences

a. Same-sex marriages undergo rituals and proceedings like heterosexual marriages before signing a marriage certificate, while in same-sex civil unions there is no ceremony needed and it is just performed by signing a civil partnership certificate in front of an authority and several witnesses.  

b. The same-sex civil union protects the sanctity of marriage and only seeks the right to settle with a partner of the same sex. In several states, civil union may become an alternative to same-sex marriage as religious countries believe that marriage is exclusive between a man and a woman.


4.)  Status in the Philippines

A. In the Philippines, where Christianity is predominant and 86% of the population are Roman Catholics, SAME-SEX MARRIAGE is currently NOT legally recognized. 
This is prior to the Family Code of the Philippines that defines marriage as a strict union between a man and a woman. 

It will be recalled that a lawyer, which is also a member of LGBTQ+, named Jesus Falcis filed a petition in the Supreme Court in 2015, legalizing same-sex marriage in the country. The petition asked the court to rule that key articles of the Philippine Family Code are unconstitutional on grounds of equality.  

According to the Family Code of the Philippines, Article 1, it states that “Marriage is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with the law for the establishment of conjugal and family life.”

Falcis argues that “the prohibition against the right to marry the same-sex injures [his] plans to settle down and have a companion for life in his beloved country.” He also stated that his “ability to find and enter into a long-term monogamous same-sex relationship is impaired because of the absence of a legal incentive for gay individuals to seek such relationship.”

The ruling was made in 2019, dismissing the petition because, 
1. Since the petitioner did not have a partner at the time it was filed, he was not directly injured, and thus he was not the appropriate party to allege a liberty interest in a same-sex marriage.

2.The petitioner’s request was too narrow in scope, as there are numerous other statutes besides the Family Code that similarly treat marriage as a heterosexual institution.

A motion to reconsider was filed again in 2019, but on January 6, 2020, the Philippines Supreme Court said the motion for partial reconsideration on this matter was “denied with finality” because of “lack of standing, violating the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failing to raise an actual, justiciable controversy.”

“No further pleadings or motions will be entertained.” Added by the Supreme Court.

B. SAME-SEX CIVIL UNION is currently not legal in the Philippines, but it can be remembered that in October 2017, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez authored House Bill 6595 that would grant same-sex couples “benefits and protections as are granted to spouses in a traditional marriage,” but was rejected at the committee level.

Furthermore, Rep. Bernadette Herrera of the Bagong Henerasyon party list, re-filed the proposed Civil Partnership Act in the next 19th Congress in the hopes that the proposal, which failed to pass in the previous two Congresses, would finally pass this time. However, it’s still similar to the proposed legislation by Alvarez in that it grants both same-sex and heterosexual spouses the right to a civil partnership.

Recently, Senator Robinhood Padilla introduced Senate Bill No. 449, which aims to grant “equal rights and recognition for couples of the same sex with no prejudice as to sexual relationships are protected and recognized and given access to basic social protection and security.”



REFERENCES

Abad, M. (2020). What would a civil union be like in the Philippines? https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/what-civil-union-might-look-like-philippines/ 

Armstrong, H. (2021). Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships. https://www.findlaw.com/family/marriage/same-sex-marriage-civil-unions-and-domestic-partnerships.html 

CNN Philippines (2022). Padilla files bill institutionalizing civil union of same-sex couples in PH. https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2022/8/11/Senate-bill-civil-union-same-sex-couples-.html

Gregorio, X. (2022). Same-sex civil unions in the Philippines: What you need to know. https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2022/08/13/2202445/same-sex-civil-unions-philippines-what-you-need-know

Llywelyn, D. (2022). How population and demographic shifts are shaping the future of the Catholic Church. https://dornsife.usc.edu/iacs/global-christianity/

Miller, J. (n.d). Religion in the Philippines. https://asiasociety.org/education/religion-philippines

Pulta, B. (2020). SC thumbs down same-sex marriage case ‘with finality’. https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1090140

Thoreson, R. (2018). Philippine Supreme Court Considers Same-Sex Marriage. https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/19/philippine-supreme-court-considers-same-sex-marriage





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