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What's the difference between LGBTQ+ civil union and same-sex marriage?

By AYIE LICSI Published Mar 02, 2022 5:04 pm Updated Aug 11, 2022 4:27 pm

During this year's CNN Philippines Presidential Debate, the presidentiables were asked about their stances on same-sex civil unions. Sen. Manny Pacquiao expressed his rejection of this, saying he's against same-sex marriage.

As netizens on Twitter have pointed out, same-sex marriage is different from civil unions. Other candidates like Sen. Ping Lacson have made the distinction as well—he's against the earlier but for the latter.

Currently, the House of Representatives has pending bills recognizing the civil partnership of couples regardless of their gender. So based on these proposals, let's look at how civil union differs from a marriage.

First, the similarities: House Bill 1357 and House Bill 2264, both known as the Civil Partnership Act, say partners will be given "all benefits and protections as are granted to spouses in a marriage under existing laws."

On Aug. 11, 2022, Sen. Robinhood Padilla filed Senate Bill 449, seeking to institutionalize the civil union of same-sex couples.

"It is high time that the Philippines provides 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," the senator said in the bill's explanatory note.

The partnered couples will be able to enjoy the same rights and privileges as married couples like adopting a child, being recognized as parents of a child, separating legally, giving consent to medical treatments on their partner's behalf under serious medical situations, and getting equal visitation rights in hospitals and detention facilities.

Under HB 2264, civil partnership will also grant couples inheritance rights over properties acquired together. 

Likewise, civil union couples also "legally owe each other respect, fidelity, support, and assistance."

They will also have the same rights and privileges granted to married couples when it comes to insurance memberships with the Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and PhilHealth.

The differences

So how do they differ? Are the two concepts basically the same but using different terminologies? According to Atty. Claire De Leon of the Lagablab LGBT Network, it's still not exactly the same.

"When we talk about marriage or civil partnership, we are talking about legal, and not religious, categories. As such, if we use the terminology of marriage, we are still talking about its legal definition, legal structure, and the legal rights and obligations attached to it," she told PhilSTAR L!fe.

Under the Family Code, one of the requisites of marriage is that the contracting parties must be a male and a female and that it must be done in the presence of a solemnizing officer e.g. a priest or minister of any church or religious sect.

A civil union, on the other hand, only requires that the two parties—regardless of whether they're of the same or opposite sex—will come together in the presence of a duly licensed notary public.

As the explanatory note of HB 1357 by Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy states, "[Civil union] aims to be a landmark effort to provide civil rights, benefits, and responsibilities to couples previously unable to marry, by giving them due recognition and protection from the State."

In addition, the bill intends to protect couples from discrimination from the workplace based on their civil partnership status.

Recognition, not special rights

During the debate, Pacquiao said that same-sex marriage would "favor" LGBTQ+ individuals: "Kailangan maging pantay-pantay tayo, pare-pareho tayo sa bansa natin na walang pinapaburan, anumang klaseng tao," he gave as one of his reasons why he's against it.

However, implementing same-sex marriage or civil unions in the Philippines would not give special rights to LGBTQ+ Filipinos, according to De Leon. "It would only grant legal recognition of LGBTQI couples," she said.

"When we talk about same-sex civil unions, we are talking about legal recognition of same-sex relationships, and in turn legal recognition of LGBTQI families. Under our current law, LGBTQI couples and families, no matter how long they have been together, remain strangers under the law."

"It does not give special rights, but it would simply allow LGBTQI families to access rights and public services that are accessible to any other family," the lawyer added.