A SOGIE Compromise

One of the first theories discussed during freshman political science courses is ‘politics as the art of compromise’. Cliché as it may be, LGBT+ rights activists must take this aphorism to heart if they wish to accomplish their ultimate aim of establishing legal protection mechanisms for the rights of LGBT+ individuals. At this point, the only realistic option for LGBT+ rights advocates is to abandon the SOGIE Bill and realign their lobbying efforts towards the passage of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation which includes LGBT+ persons under its umbrella of protections.

I can only imagine how difficult it would be for a group of people to compromise with an opposing group which includes among its ranks some individuals who would deny their inherent dignity and fundamental rights as human beings. Unfortunately, this is the dilemma in which the LGBT+ community finds itself now as they continue to push for the passage of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill in Congress.

Powerful figures in both chambers of Congress have publicly proclaimed the impossibility of the SOGIE Bill’s passage during the 18th Congress. I do not doubt them. Considering the way the Philippine legislative process works, the unequivocal opposition of key figures in the congressional leadership to a bill pretty much guarantees it will never make it past second reading in either chamber. Thus the SOGIE Bill is, for all intents and purposes, dead in the water for the next three years.

Despite this, however, it appears that LGBT+ rights advocates in Congress are refusing to back down from a fight. Some of the more outspoken SOGIE Bill proponents in the legislature still want the bill scheduled for plenary debates, despite its slim chances of approval.

One of the first theories discussed during freshman political science courses is ‘politics as the art of compromise’. Cliché as it may be, LGBT+ rights activists must take this aphorism to heart if they wish to accomplish their ultimate aim of establishing legal protection mechanisms for the rights of LGBT+ individuals. At this point, the only realistic option for LGBT+ rights advocates is to abandon the SOGIE Bill and realign their lobbying efforts towards the passage of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation which includes LGBT+ persons under its umbrella of protections.

From a strategy perspective, this realignment would neutralize the most powerful policy-based argument of SOGIE Bill opponents. I call it the ‘special treatment’ argument. SOGIE Bill detractors have vigorously questioned the wisdom of passing anti-discrimination legislation which solely protects LGBT+ individuals while disregarding other vulnerable sectors that regularly face discrimination, such as women, religious minorities, and persons with disabilities. Policywise, this is a valid point which I find persuasive notwithstanding my general support for LGBT+ rights.

In the context of a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill, however, the argument would be turned on its head. Instead of questioning the special treatment of LGBT+ persons under the SOGIE Bill, SOGIE Bill opponents would be the ones charged to defend the unjust exclusion of LGBT+ persons from the anti-discrimination bill. After all, why should LGBT+ individuals be denied the same protections granted to similarly situated marginalized individuals under the law? That would be an immensely difficult question to answer in a persuasive and logical manner, and that bodes well for the ultimate inclusion of LGBT+ persons in a broader anti-discrimination bill.

Significantly, there are already several versions of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation pending in both chambers of Congress. Two bills have been filed in the Senate, along with five in the House of Representatives that expressly enumerate sexual orientation, gender identity and expression among several prohibited bases for discrimination. Considering that President Duterte has signified his willingness to certify as urgent an all-inclusive anti-discrimination bill, we can be hopeful that it could be signed into law as early as 2020.

Prejudice is a progressive disease that corrodes the hearts and minds in which it is allowed to roam free. Even the most well-crafted law could do little to arrest the internal damage. Nevertheless, having experienced a taste of discrimination firsthand as an immigrant in the United States and as a person of Moro ancestry in the Philippines, I empathize with LGBT+ individuals and other vulnerable individuals who have to deal with acts of discrimination so much more blatant and frequent than my relatively tame and isolated experiences. All Filipinos, including LGBT+ Filipinos, deserve the legal protections against prejudice and bigotry that a comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Law would provide. I hope SOGIE Bill advocates will be willing to compromise and re-focus the remarkable strength and energy of their movement towards achieving this end.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TheLOBBYiST.
About the Author
Aureli, who currently serves as Executive Director of PUBLiCUS, is a senior political adviser and communications strategist specialising in legislative and executive public relations and brand management.
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