Roman to push for civil unions, gender recognition after SOGIE Bill passage

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 26) — After the success of the anti-discrimination bill at the House of Representatives, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Filipinos can look forward to House efforts on civil unions, gender recognition, and admission to the military.

However, first transgender congresswoman Geraldine Roman told CNN Philippines' The Source she will take these efforts one at a time.

"In the fight for LGBT rights, there has to be [strategy] and sequencing," said Roman.

"First we start with the anti-discrimination bill, then we proceed to civil partnerships, whether same sex or otherwise, then we go to gender recognition, then we can go to LGBT in the military," she added.

Roman says tackling policies in that order is common in countries where the LGBT community are recognized.

"It's always that order — you start with a law that encompasses or summarizes and gives the justification for LGBT rights, then after a period of good experience with that law, you proceed to another," she said.

Roman is one of the authors of the Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) Equality Act, or House Bill 4982, which the House of Representatives unanimously passed on September 20.

Related: House approves anti-discrimination bill on 3rd and final reading

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has thrown his support behind a civil union bill that recognizes both heterosexual and same-sex partnerships. The measure, which is deemed priority legislation, covers property rights, custodial rights over children, and adoption rights.

Meanwhile, Roman shared that she has already finished the first draft of a gender recognition bill that allows for a change of sex in government identification cards and papers. The proposal has yet to be filed.

Filipinos who identify as transgenders, including Roman, could previously appeal for a correction of their government documents through a court order. However, a 2006 Supreme Court decision penned by the late Chief Justice Renato Corona ruled that there was no law that allowed for these corrections, effectively putting an end to such petitions.

He wrote: "In our system of government, it is for the legislature, should it choose to do so, to determine what guidelines should govern the recognition of the effects of sex reassignment... The Court cannot enact a law where no law exists."

Legislation for the LGBT have been met with opposition in the predominantly Catholic Philippines. However, a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found 73 percent of Filipinos believed homosexuality should be accepted by society.

LGBT in the military

An earlier draft of the SOGIE Equality Bill addressed the issue of transgenders entering the military and police force. However, the provision was axed during Congress negotiations.

"I think admission of members of the LGBT community would need another bill... and internal policies of the [Armed Forces of the Philippines]," said Roman.

Roman said she was in touch with the AFP "top brass" in talks about a bill accommodating the LGBT in the army.

"They have been very warm and welcoming to me. I think they're also open... to LGBT members serving in the military," said Roman.

She said she was looking at the American policy under President Barack Obama's administration as a model. Obama lifted a ban on openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals from serving in the military, while former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter allowed transgender persons to participate in the Armed Forces. President Donald Trump has since announced a reinstatement of the ban.

However, Roman noted this provision would have to come after the recognition of civil unions and gender change. The proposal would cover spousal benefits for partners of slain soldiers, as well as uniform policies for transgenders.

"For an LGBT in the military bill to actually be drafted and for it to be complete, we have to address other issues like... the legal recognition of stable relationships ng mga LGBT, [and] gender recognition," said Roman.