Couples apply for 1st same-sex marriage licences in Philippines

Maria Arlyn Ibanez (left) and pastor Crescencio Agbayani (right) hold a placard in protest outside the Civil Registry Office in Manila on Aug 3, 2015, after their application for same-sex marriage licenses for their respective partners were denied. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - Two same-sex Philippine couples applied for marriage licences on Monday (Aug 3) in a first for the conservative Catholic nation, but were promptly rejected by the government.

Maria Arlyn Ibanez and her partner Joanne Reena Gregorio joined Pastor Crescencio Agbayani and his partner Marlon Pelipe in trooping to a civil registry office in Manila, hoping to raise awareness about gay rights.

"We expected it would be denied but we tried it anyway.... We thought maybe there would be a miracle and it would be approved," Ibanez, a 33-year-old call centre worker, told AFP.

After the government agency turned them down, Ibanez and Agbayani, who runs an informal church for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, brandished a sign saying "We were denied" in front of a rainbow flag.

Officials at the agency told reporters it was the first time a same sex couple had applied for a marriage licence.

Government officials have previously said no same-sex unions will be recognised unless a law is passed for the purpose, adding that it would likely be blocked by legislators allied with the Catholic church.

Gay rights have been in the spotlight around the world following the US Supreme Court's landmark ruling to legalise gay marriage in June.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Taiwan this month calling for the legalisation of gay marriage, while pressure is mounting on the Australian government for a parliamentary vote on the subject.

The Philippines - where 80 per cent of a population of 100 million is Catholic - is the only country where divorce is not legal, largely due to church influence. Abortion is also illegal.

Gay rights lawyer Clara Rita Padilla said the marriage licence applications reflected the need to legalise same-sex unions in the Philippines.

"The right to marry is guaranteed by our constitutional rights to equality, equal protection of the law, privacy, and religion," she said in a statement.

Ibanez said Monday's rejection will not stop her and her partner from taking part in a "wedding" ceremony slated later this month at Agbayani's church.

The union would not be legally recognised but would show her commitment to her partner, she said.

"We will continue to fight for our rights," she told AFP.

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