Last weekend, the Baguio City Metropolitan Christian Church (MCC) performed a mass same-sex wedding. Eight gay and lesbian couples were united in the ceremony.

Roman Catholic Bishop Teodoro Bacani and other religious leaders condemned it as immoral.

Later this evening(Philippine time), a friend sent me a private message saying that a lawyer close to me was on TV discussing the illegality (and immorality) of the marriage ceremony. Hence, I am compelled to write this fast note in the hope I can help clarify what appears to be a state of legal confusion. I am not going to wade into the waters of morality or immorality regarding this issue. Since the morality/immorality debate is flooding, I will limit my comments to the legal dimension as raised in online discussions.

Was the same-sex marriage ceremony illegal?

First, it must be understood that the mass same-sex wedding ceremony was celebrated outside the framework of the Family Code of the Philippines. To my knowledge- and please correct me if I am wrong - the Metropolitan Church which performed the ceremony did not misrepresent that the unions are valid under the law. The couples were fully cognizant that the ceremony had no legal value. They did not even apply for marriage licenses before any civil registry. One might be compelled to ask: Why go through the ceremony then? They wanted to have their union recognized at least by their community in a ceremony that the whole world may repudiate but which at least their community respects. It is pretty much like wedding ceremonies performed by indigenous peoples according to customary laws which in some parts of the world are not legally recognized but which are respected by their respective communities.

It should not also be overlooked that the non-recognition under the law of same-sex unions was precisely a driving force in the holding of such ceremony. It is in itself political speech which is cloistered within the protective mantle of the Bill of Rights. The LGBTQI community feels that it is discriminated against as its members are denied the right to marry on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or non-identity and the like. Whether or not you and I agree to their strategy is a distinct issue altogether. The point is any person who feels that he/she has been deprived of his/her entitlements (OK, rights!) is free under our law to act accordingly within the bounds of law.

It is argued that the church and its members who were parties to the mass same-sex union ceremony violated Articles 350 and 352 of the Revised.

At the onset, it must be borne in mind that Art. 350 and Art. 352 refer to crimes of intent.

This is what Art. 350 of the Revised Penal Code has to say: "Art. 350. Marriage contracted against provisions of laws. — The penalty of prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods shall be imposed upon any person who, without being included in the provisions of the next preceding article, shall have not been complied with or that the marriage is in disregard of a legal impediment.

If either of the contracting parties shall obtain the consent of the other by means of violence, intimidation or fraud, he shall be punished by the maximum period of the penalty provided in the next preceding paragraph."

What does Art. 350 pertain to? It pertains to parties to a marriage where the parties do not comply with requisites of the law. At least, this marriage purports to have been celebrated within the framework of the Family Code of the Philippines with the parties to the union or one of them believing that it bears the stamp of legal validity. At the risk of sounding repetitious, the parties to the mass same-sex wedding tagged illegal were under no illusion – none at all- that their marriage is recognized under the Family Code, and they have no intention whatsoever to present themselves as married couples under the said law.

How about Art. 352? Art. 352. Performance of illegal marriage ceremony. — Priests or ministers of any religious denomination or sect, or civil authorities who shall perform or authorize any illegal marriage ceremony shall be punished in accordance with the provisions of the Marriage Law." To be liable under this provision, the solemnizing officer has or pretends to have an authority to solemnize same-sex marriage under the law. Such is not obtaining in the case of the mass same-sex wedding. The pastors did not (mis)represent themselves as licensed to officiate same-sex marriages under the Family Code of the Philippines.

This is the most I could assemble in a short span of time. I hope that I did not contribute to the confusion. :-)