Senatorial candidate Manny Pacquiao reaped intense criticism when he justified his stand against same-sex marriage by saying homosexuals are worse than animals when it comes to their sex lives.
The backlash was immediate and came from prominent LGBTQ personalities, advocacy groups, and other quarters, some of whom urged against voting for Pacquiao in the coming elections.
Pacquiao apologized for the slur, pointing to his religious beliefs and his interpretation of the Bible to explain his stand.
What the Pacquiao debacle contributes to the discourse is this: how do we view religious fundamentalism in relation to society, politics, and the law?
Religious fundamentalism often makes literal references to scripture and dogma that have the effect of reinforcing ingroup and outgroup differences. Because it is by nature discriminatory, it has no place in the politics or law of a just and democratic society that must meet the needs of a plurality of people coming from different backgrounds and diverse circumstances and lifestyles.
Under the law, Pacquiao, as a private individual, is free to practice whatever religion he wants. The law protects his right to be a bigot if he so chooses to be. However, as a public servant, it is his responsibility to care for all sectors of society, especially the marginalized and stigmatized such as the LGBTQs who struggle against prejudice and hostility.
It is this distinction – the difference between a candidate’s private and public life —that voters need to draw in order to make informed choices at the polls. It is also the demarcation line that candidates must be mindful of when they present their service platforms and, if elected, when they perform their sworn duty to their constituents.
Religions are, for the most part, exclusive in nature in that they exclude non-believers. In their recent joint statement, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill deplored the shift of societies to a secular mindset. That is only to be expected of them—it is in their job description to defend their faiths.
In contrast, the Dalai Lama has said that his religion is simply kindness. Hence the growing popularity of Buddhism, if not as a religion, then as a philosophy—there isn’t the same missionary fire, no urgency to spread and dominate, because it is tolerant, because it is accepting of others’ beliefs.
How many times must I say this—0not everyone in this country is Catholic. Not everyone is Christian. Not everyone is religious. And because we are all citizens of one country, the state must protect the welfare of each individual, regardless of creed or other affiliation, regardless of lifestyle or sexuality.
This is why we have laws. In a just and humane society, the law is intended to protect and serve the interests of the public. The law serves as shield and sword and shelter. It must be all this to everyone because no other cultural system, religion included, can serve without discrimination.
Religion should be a private matter, and should not be imposed on others in a pluralistic society such as ours. This is why we have a problem with lawmakers whose private beliefs intrude upon their public capacities, for instance, those who voted against the reproductive health bill for religious reasons rather than any logical reason based on facts and evidence.
As in Jose Rizal’s time, the prailes still hold sway over minds and hearts. Whether this is because of fear of hellfire, genuine spiritual fervor, or a laissez-faire consensus to cultural and societal norms is a matter of debate.
If, let’s say, the Muslims were be the majority, would the situation be the same? Perhaps—refer to the Islamic countries where religious doctrine dictates the law.
If our country is to strengthen and grow, it needs to reject the ‘othering’ mindset that creates an ‘us’ and ‘others’ and relegates the latter to the outgroup, notwithstanding the contributions they make to the economy and to society in general. By comparing LGBTQ lifestyles to those of animals, Pacquiao ‘othered’ a sector of society and reinforced cultural norms that stigmatize them.
The election campaigns allow us the chance to screen candidates, find out their platforms, if any, and determine their attitudes to significant issues.
Make the wise choice. Vote for the candidates who will bring Filipinos together in unity to work for development and progress and create an inclusive community, instead of the ones who will continue to keep us apart in dissension and conflict.
Facebook: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, Instagram: @jensdecember