By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

March 28, 2013

WASHINGTON-Same sex marriage is evidently one of the most divisive issues in America today. It’s drawn a line even for Filipinos here – and perhaps a sign of how deeply fractured they are, is the way Fil-Ams have emerged in the forefront of the debate for both sides.

The Wall Street Journal has noted how the crowds in front of the US Supreme Court, which wrapped up yesterday two days of hearings on California’s Proposition 8 and a challenge against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), appeared larger than last year’s “Obamacare” hearings.

The High Tribunal isn’t expected to render a ruling until July.

The schism can be attributed to how people perceive the issue. Many supporters of same sex marriage see it as a civil rights issue with a primal impact on the guarantees of the US Constitution. Those opposed are convinced it is a moral issue.

Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, arguing against Proposition 8, told the justices that marriage is a fundamental right of all Americans, regardless of gender.

The Baltimore Sun wrote Wednesday: “The argument against Proposition 8 and the argument against DOMA both rely on the proposition that laws treating gays differently should be subject to “heightened scrutiny,” given the history of discrimination against them and their inability to defend themselves through the political process. (The brief defending DOMA, hilariously argues that gays are in fact among the most politically powerful groups in America, the passage in the last 17 years of three dozen state laws banning gay marriage notwithstanding.)”

Only nine states – including Maryland – as well as the District of Columbia have legalized same sex marriage; 39 other states prohibit it either in their constitutions or by statute.

Interestingly, both cases reached the SCOTUS because incumbents refused to defend what are existing mandates – the California governor viewed Proposition 8 unconstitutional and President Obama ordered last year Attorney General Eric Holder not to support DOMA in the Supreme Court for the same reason.

Lesbian partners Jay Mercado and Shirley Tan have testified on Capitol Hill for same sex rights. They have twin sons and live in Pacifica, California. Mercado is an American citizen but Tan has been threatened with deportation back to the Philippines because she’s not recognized as Mercado’s legal spouse that could have paved the way for acquiring American citizenship.

Pulitzer-winning Filipino journalist Jose Antonio Vargas has tried to draw a parallel between the struggle for same sex rights and the campaign to fix the country’s broken immigration system. For young Fil-Ams, at least in the Metro DC region, those lines intersect frequently under the LGBT movement.

The same can be said of opponents of same sex marriage – where it hits the anti-abortion, pro-life movement. It is small wonder that Fil-Am opposition to same sex marriage is largely fueled by religious and cultural factors.

When the otherwise popular Filipino boxing champion and now-lawmaker Manny Pacquiao weighed in on gay marriage – anchoring his opposition to his interpretation of the Bible – it drew a quick rebuke from a young gay Fil-Am in California.

Though Filipinos are generally welcoming to LGBT couples, that has a limit and often it’s dictated by their understanding of Biblical prohibitions, flavored heavily by the cultural taboos they have carried across the Pacific.

One survey showed nearly 80 percent of respondents in the Philippines believe same sex marriage is “always wrong”. ABS-CBN’s Balitang America ran a poll last night that showed 71 percent of Filipinos saw same sex marriage as a sin.

Those who oppose same sex marriage, viewing the debate from a moral and ethical perspective, have invoked the classic church vs state argument as well. Balitang America had featured Fr. Domeng Orimaco, a Filipino parish priest in Daly City, California who blamed President Obama for what he sees as an erosion of the institution of marriage.

Still, the political history of the United States has rarely favored the status quo.

Same sex marriage is divisive because it’s so complex and profound, and elicits such powerful emotions. I’ve tried litigating this at home and after a long, draining but inconclusive discussion, I vowed never to do it again. I’ll just wait for the SCOTUS decision.

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