Duterte supports same-sex marriage, but why now

President Rodrigo Duterte has emerged as an unlikely supporter of same-sex marriage. However, his motives are purely political.

By Oliver Ward

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has flip-flopped again. The outspoken president declared his support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community at an LGBT gathering in Davos. He told the group he supported same-sex marriage, adding “if that will add to your happiness, I am for it”.

The move is unexpected. Although he supported gay rights on the campaign trail in 2016, he opposed same-sex marriage in March of 2017. He has also made homophobic slurs in public. He called US ambassador Phillip Goldberg “[John Kerry`s] gay ambassador, the son of a whore,” in 2016.

Now his stance has changed. “I want gay marriage”, he said. He also sympathised with the LGBT community. “When I was in high school, I did not know if I wanted to be a girl or a boy.”

The Filipino public has an accepting attitude towards homosexuality

Compared to other nations, the Philippines maintains an accepting view of homosexuality. A Pew study asked respondents from various nations whether homosexuality should be accepted. 73% of Filipino respondents believed that it should be.

A 2016 poll from Inquirer.net found that the majority of respondents did not care whether same-sex marriage was legal or not. There is not the same level of resistance to same-sex marriage within the Philippines as there is in other Catholic countries.

Source: Inquirer

For example, the Philippines has a transgender lawmaker. Geraldine Roman of Bataan’s first district is the country’s first transgender lawmaker. Police officers in the Philippines now receive gender sensitivity training. Several states have also passed anti-discrimination ordinances.

Duterte’s has an opportunity to reduce the political influence of the Catholic church

The Philippines has adopted a more accepting stance of the LGBT community since 2013. But Duterte has not supported same-sex marriage until now.

Back in March, when Duterte opposed same-sex marriage, he told the LGBT community it couldn’t happen “because we are Catholics”. But the Philippines remains Catholic today. 81% of the population identify themselves as Catholic. Yet, Duterte now believes same-sex marriage can become a reality.

Same-sex marriage is now on the table for Duterte. Duterte believes he can inflict a major dent in the political influence of the church. Under previous administrations, the church wielded significant power. In 1986, it rallied support among the country’s Catholics to overthrow Ferdinand Marcos. In 2001, it did the same to President Estrada.

Duterte promised a “showdown” with the church

But the church has lost several high-profile political battles in recent years. In 2012, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act gave the public universal access to contraception. The church aggressively opposed the bill, but lawmakers passed it anyway.

The church already fought Duterte over the decision to give away free contraceptives and was a vocal opponent of his war on drugs. The church was unable to halt these policies. Its political power is not what it was under previous administrations.

For Duterte, throwing his weight behind same-sex marriage is another way to further undermine the church’s influence across the country and shore up his power. If he can usher same-sex marriage through Congress and bring it into law, it will represent a huge victory for his administration over the church, and put another nail in the political coffin of the Catholic church.

Duterte is mapping out his battlefields for his showdown with the Catholic church. Same-sex marriage will be one of them. The LGBT community has a champion in Duterte, although not necessarily for the reasons they would like.