A Philippine gay rights group is waging a legal battle to be allowed to run in next year's polls after the Elections Commission ruled it cannot register as a political party on grounds that it advocates immorality.
The decision last week against Ang Ladlad (Out of the Closet), a group representing lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, sent shock waves through the gay community.
In issuing its decision, the commission said the group "tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs" and exposes young people to "an environment that does not conform to the teachings of our faith." The ruling cited passages from the Bible and the Quran condemning homosexuality.
Homosexuals are generally accepted in the Philippines, despite the dominant Roman Catholic religion's rejection of same-sex relations.
Leila de Lima, chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, denounced the Election Commission's ruling as "retrogressive" and said it "smacks of discrimination and prejudice."
She promised to support Ang Ladlad's efforts to gain recognition as a party.
The group's leader, Danton Remoto, a prominent gay activist and English professor at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University, filed a petition Wednesday asking the commission to reconsider its ruling, which he said was based largely on religious, not legal, grounds.
There are no laws in the Philippines against homosexuality or against sexual discrimination. If his group is allowed to run and wins a congressional seat, Remoto said he hopes to push for the adoption of a proposed anti-discrimination bill that has been languishing for nine years because of insufficient support.
"The law is just silent," he said. "We are just invisible in the law."
He said his group's platform does not include same-sex marriage, but pushes for nondiscrimination in the workplace and schools. He cited instances in which companies allegedly refused to hire gays and schools required parents to sign a document certifying their children were not gay.
Candidates and political parties planning to run in the May 2010 national elections have until Dec. 1 to apply with the Elections Commission, which must give its approval.
The head of the commission's legal department, Ismael Rafanan, said Ang Ladlad's petition will be reviewed by the seven-member commission. If it reaffirms the rejection, Ang Ladlad can bring the case to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.