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Families (2)

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Last Wednesday I described the many different types of parenting and family arrangements we now have in the Philippines (and other parts of the world): solo parenting, surrogate parenting, families with adopted children, blended families, multiple families, and families headed by same-sex couples.

Many of the arrangements are often done extralegally, meaning without going through legal processes. The arrangements will often work out, but in other cases, the absence of legal protection can make the parties, especially the children, vulnerable.

For example, because divorce is not allowed in the Philippines and legal separation and annulment are expensive procedures, couples will sometimes just break up, each going their own way and even starting new relationships and families. In such situations, there is nothing clear about who will support the children, who has custody, who has visitation rights.

Informal adoptions also carry that problem. I know a woman who is still recovering from the trauma of losing an adopted child. Single, she took on the responsibility of taking care of a nephew from birth, giving him the best in life including private schooling. When the boy turned seven, the father (her brother) decided he wanted the boy back, to raise with a second “wife.” (The quotation marks are used because he is still legally married to the first wife, the boy’s mother, who has also gone on to a second “husband.”) My friend could do nothing. The boy now struggles with living with a stepmother, a still absent father (who works elsewhere), a new environment using a language he cannot speak, and a public school education.

Who judges?

We need laws that formalize guardianship and parenting arrangements, and more. This is where the controversial same-sex marriages come in.

I will describe a situation that is based on a couple I know—two lesbians who have been together for almost 10 years, raising two informally adopted children, both taken from poor families but without legal papers. I have told them they need to go through legal adoption but they observe, rightly so, that it takes years to adopt, with many expenses…and they wonder if the Department of Social Welfare and Development can be unbiased in assessing their capability to adopt, because both of them are quite “butch,” very “tomboy” in appearance.

Because the children are not legally adopted, they cannot be registered as beneficiaries of the two women for PhilHealth, for social security, or for private insurance. Schools can question them when they are enrolled, although this has not happened because they simply say they’re “aunts.” Some schools actually won’t even admit the children because of policies that don’t accept “irregular” children, meaning those of parents who are single, adoptive, separated, or divorced.

The lack of legal options also applies to their own ability to care for each other. If one partner falls seriously ill and needs to be admitted to hospital for emergency procedures, the other cannot sign consent forms. They love and have cared for each other, but as far as society and the law are concerned, they are invisible, if not outcasts.

As I pointed out in last Wednesday’s column, the issue here is not so much of “same-sex marriages” as of society providing mechanisms to protect all kinds of relationships between two consenting adults, as well as between individuals who parent and the children.

I know the “homosexuality is a sin” issue keeps coming up, but who is to judge here? We have many gays and lesbians who sacrifice their careers and lives to care for elderly parents. How convenient that societies never question their competence and capability, never use the label “perverts” to block them from doing so.

“Oh, but it’s different with parenting; they might molest their children.” Really now. Look at the courts clogged with cases of fathers raping their daughters, stepdaughters, nieces, granddaughters. Should we then ban all heterosexual men from marrying, and from raising children?

Evolving laws

We will see more variations around marriages and parenting not because societies are becoming lax and “liberal” but because they are becoming more compassionate, recognizing that for the longest time, men and women, men and men, women and women, have taken up the tremendous responsibilities of caring for relatives and for children.

Our laws have evolved. We now extend social security benefits to single mothers (but not single fathers, as far as I know). Illegitimate children have the same rights as legitimate children. But what happens to all the other types of families and parent-child relationships already existing, and yet to come?  The distinction between a “biological” and “adoptive” parent will become more complicated in the years ahead with “womb mothers”—those who bring a fetus to term, covered by a legal contract, and turn over the child to adoptive parents. (We have no laws for this arrangement in the Philippines.)

Biological parents, with one father and one mother, do not have a monopoly on the commitment to caring; in fact, we see too many biological parents who quite simply do not parent. Parenting is not instinctive; in fact, biology sometimes seems to work against some mothers who, because their bodies go through so much tumult, plunging them into deep postpartum depression, reject their newborn child.

Parenting is cultural, too, with society telling us not just how but also when to parent. Nancy Schepher Hughes’ “Death without Weeping” describes mothers in Brazilian slums who keep a distance from their children until they are about a year old, because infant mortality is so high and the mothers are in a sense avoiding the pain that will come with attachment. I have seen this phenomenon as well in our own urban areas, and the tendency to label the behavior as “neglect.”

Conservatives paint dire portraits of gay marriages leading to gay parenting—and, in a sense, they are right. But the result is not a descent into chaos and immorality but of a more caring society that allows all—heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual—to participate more fully in society, including bringing up the next generation.

By rejecting same-sex marriage, society leaves same-sex couples to drift about without any legal commitment to each other, without social recognition and affirmation. Which is, of course, what conservatives want because they so hate homosexuals. (Please, dear readers, spare me letters trying to clarify that the Catholic Church only condemns homosexuality, and not homosexuals.)

This is why lesbians and gays have come out so passionately for same-sex marriage, wanting an assurance that they have the same rights as straight couples have to take care of each other, and their children.

One final point. Given that some 10 million Filipinos live and work overseas, we must face up to certain realities. In a few months, the Philippines will be the only country left in the world without divorce. In a few years, we will be among a small number of countries that do not recognize same-sex unions. How do we respond to the Filipinos who come back from overseas, divorced and with new families? How do we respond to our relatives coming home with a same-sex spouse, and with children from their same-sex union? Are we going to exclude them from our families and our social life?

(E-mail: mtan@inquirer.com.ph)


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Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=55879

  • Charlotte Samaniego

    You are correct, the children must be protected.
    I wanted to share with you this rather bizarre story of a child born out of wedlock in, of all places, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I knew the mother of the boy, who came to KSA to work as a nurse, leaving behind her husband and kids in the Philippines. She met another male OFW, who also have his own family in the Philippines. Their Saudi ID’s, iqamas, say they are married, but not to each other. For some reason, the mother got pregnant by the male OFW. But since they are not married to each other, they cannot report that they’re the parents of the infant, otherwise, they will be charged with prostitution in Saudi Arabia, which could get them a capital punishment. The boy, as a result, has no birth certificate, and is technically, “stateless”. He is not even a Filipino, and the parents cannot bring him to the Philippines. The boy is now about nine or ten. Isn’t that a bizarre situation?

  • brunogiordano

    “Catholic Church only condemns homosexuality, and not homosexuals.”

    Ibig bang sabihin nito na ang isang HOMOSEXUAL na nag pe perform ng HOMOSEXUALITY ay walang kasalanan.

    Ang kasalanan at may kasalanan ay ang HOMOSEXUALITY at hindi iyong HOMOSEXUAL

    OBVIOUS at HALATA na isang PA IKOT at PALUSOT lang ng SIMBAHAN ito.

  • bgcorg

    A law is needed to protect children or recognize social orientation in society but not to include legalization of same sex unions. Divorce is not the solution or same sex marriages. This is a challenge for legislators: how to strengthen the family but protecting the future of the young, not to legalize divorce or same sex marriages. In France, millions of people are demonstrating against the “new law” of same sex union legislation, leaving the future of society in limbo. “Alimony” if practiced in the country by a bill of divorce may be impractical for many who, unlike those who can afford, may be impossible for many. There are other ways other than the rule but given the dynamics in the world today, it is impossible to set one rule to suit amakill circumstances. “Other ways” could be late marriages, amending rules on divorce or separation to make them less expensive and convoluted, rules on adoption, etc. We should learn from the countries that have same sex marriages and divorce, not just imitate them because we would be the only country without divorce or same sex marriage laws. We should look at the other side of the coin, too.

  • cogito728sum

    I find it hard to comprehend same sex marriage bearing children. How did the process of creating the children happen? Particularly in the case of male sex couple which demand the follow up question of who carried the conception and where did the
    child delivery process go through?

    Neither do I imagine homosexuality coming into existence without the homosexuals.
    Can there be a song without the singer, nor a dance without the dancer, a poetry without the poet, a painting without the painter, or even a simple writing without the writer? Aah, the incomprehensibility of modernity enough to drive a man back to the caves. Merci!

  • Charlotte Samaniego

    I have nothing against same sex marriages. I think two people, mature enough to know with certainty that they want to spend the rest of their lives together, should be free to do so.
    But I don’t think same sex marriage would have the same impetus in the Philippines as in other western countries, such as in the US or in France or in Canada. In western countries, they have strict laws of inheritance and succession. Hence there is an need to ensure that the deceased partner’s dying wishes need to be recognized by the law. In the Philippines, I don’t think our inheritance laws are that strict and a way can always be found around it.
    But I think, in the Philippines, the Church (not only the Catholic Church) is very invasive in the private lives of people and is quick to censor those who have alternative lifestyles. I remember an all exclusive Catholic school in Pasig, when my niece was being interviewed for admission, I heard a nun quizzing another girl, why her father did not live with her and her mother. It turned out later on that the girl was born out of wedlock, and it was that school’s policy not to admit children from such marriages. Do they really have to get that information from a 5-year old girl?
    When I was 13-years old in High School in exclusive all-boys Catholic school, one of my classmates, was talking to us one day about his sexual self-gratifying experience the day before. One of the priests overheard him, and censored him publicly, and expelled him from the school the week after.
    And when I was about to graduate, another priest from that school, during graduation confession, wanted me to confess that I masturbated, which he said was a sin. II found it very traumatic, since I felt so helpless.

  • virgoyap

    This is a very controversial column that is worth to be pondered upon with an open mind and without prejudice. BISHOPS READ THIS!!!

  • tgomeziii

    The comments and observations of Mr. Michael Tan are real, valid and sober……devoid of religious dogma and so very human. It is going to be the wave of the future in the Philippines. It cannot be stopped. It is to be devoutly wished that those entrusted with the responsibility and capability of crafting humane laws have the fortitude to enshrine beneficial secular laws in a country that has for too long been shackled by superstition and irrelevant religious rites and strictures.

  • WeAry_Bat

    About divorce, I hope it comes. One man I knew was thoroughly against it. I perceived it was because he weighed a ton with its attendant peculiarities. The wife would have cut him off if she had a chance.

    “We need laws that formalize guardianship and parenting arrangements, and more.”

    There are pre-existing legalities with marriage which is why I think this is sought. Why new laws that are the same as the same laws but for different sex, as it would seem there is no equality between sexes, hetero or homo.

    What I think will also complicate, is when same sex married couples ultimately have more rights (or paki-alam) than the biological parents.

    Maybe we can allow same female marriages but not male male. I know, I seem like an old-fashioned pig.

  • riza888

    For a child to be raised properly and reach its full potential, it needs the correct balance of masculine and feminine knowledge and wisdom. Mothers and Fathers both teach their children two different things. For example, a child will learn compassion and love mostly from it’s mother, as well as, how to form a relationship with women in the future if the child is a boy. And from the father, the child will learn life skills and matters of morality and social awareness. A boy and a girl will each learn different things from a parent of the opposite sex but they each also need a parent of the same sex to learn how to be themselves properly. So, a child must be raised by two people of opposite sex.

    • TheKirk

      What a lie.

      Compassion and love are not virtues that can be exclusively taught by mothers. Same with ‘matters of morality and social awareness’ that can be only taught by fathers. I know so many who were raised by single mothers and didn’t have father figures but they grew up to be well-balanced individuals.

      • riza888

        And you’re an idiot.

        Of course you can grow up to be a fine person without a father, without a mother etc. One would have to be rather stupid to assert it was impossible. What is being said is that the two-parent model of the opposite sex produces the best results when whole populations are considered.

      • TheKirk

        If I were to believe your arguments regarding the two-parent model producing ‘the best results’, I guess it would be safe to assume you weren’t raised that way? Calling me an idiot won’t persuade me to agree with you, Riza.

        Anyway, since you said it yourself that “you can grow up to be a fine person without a father, without a mother etc.”, I guess we’re done. :)

  • Charlotte Samaniego

    I think filipinos should have compassion for our gay brothers and lesbian sisters, and not be too quick in condemning them, even if that means accepting and tolerating them, which the Catholic Church is not wont to do.
    I cannot imagine a God that made gays and lesbians to struggle against themselves and their feelings all their lives. That’s horrible! Like hell here on earth.



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