Ang Ladlad v. COMELEC (G.R. No. 190582; Apr. 8, 2010)


FACTS: Ang Ladlad is an organization composed of men and women who identify themselves as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or trans-gendered individuals (LGBTs). Incorporated in 2003, Ang Ladlad first applied for registration with the COMELEC in 2006. The application for accreditation was denied on the ground that the organization had no substantial membership base. On August 17, 2009, Ang Ladlad again filed a Petition for registration with the COMELEC.Before the COMELEC, petitioner argued that the LGBT community is a marginalized and under-represented sector that is particularly disadvantaged because of their sexual orientation and gender identity; that LGBTs are victims of exclusion, discrimination, and violence; that because of negative societal attitudes, LGBTs are constrained to hide their sexual orientation; and that Ang Ladlad complied with the 8-point guidelines enunciated by this Court in Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party v. Commission on Elections. Ang Ladlad laid out its national membership base consisting of individual members and organizational supporters, and outlined its platform of governance.

On November 11, 2009, after admitting the petitioners evidence, the COMELEC (Second Division) dismissed the Petition on moral grounds, stating that: This Petition is dismissible on moral grounds. Petitioner defines the Filipino Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community, thus a marginalized and under-represented sector that is particularly disadvantaged because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. and proceeded to define sexual orientation as that which refers to a persons capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender, of the same gender, or more than one gender.

ANG LADLAD collides with Article 695 of the Civil Code which defines nuisance as Any act, omission, establishment, business, condition of property, or anything else which (3) shocks, defies; or disregardsdecency or morality.

It also collides with Article 1306 of the Civil Code: The contracting parties may establish such stipulations, clauses, terms and conditions as they may deem convenient, provided they are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy. Art 1409 of the Civil Code provides that Contracts whose cause, object or purpose is contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy are inexistent and void from the beginning.

Finally to safeguard the morality of the Filipino community, the Revised Penal Code, as amended, penalizes Immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions and indecent shows as follows:

Art. 201. Immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows.

When Ang Ladlad sought reconsideration, three commissioners voted to overturn the First Assailed Resolution (Commissioners Gregorio Y. Larrazabal, Rene V. Sarmiento, and Armando Velasco), while three commissioners voted to deny Ang Ladlads Motion for Reconsideration (Commissioners Nicodemo T. Ferrer, Lucenito N. Tagle, and Elias R. Yusoph). The COMELEC Chairman, breaking the tie and speaking for the majority in his Separate Opinion, upheld the First Assailed Resolution, stating that:

Ladlad is applying for accreditation as a sectoral party in the party-list system. Even assuming that it has properly proven its under-representation and marginalization, it cannot be said that Ladlads expressed sexual orientations per se would benefit the nation as a whole.

Thus, even if societys understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of LGBTs is elevated, there can be no denying that Ladlad constituencies are still males and females, and they will remain either male or female protected by the same Bill of Rights that applies to all citizens alike.

There is no question about not imposing on Ladlad Christian or Muslim religious practices. Neither is there any attempt to any particular religious groups moral rules on Ladlad. Rather, what are being adopted as moral parameters and precepts are generally accepted public morals. They are possibly religious-based, but as a society, the Philippines cannot ignore its more than 500 years of Muslim and Christian upbringing, such that some moral precepts espoused by said religions have sipped [sic] into society and these are not publicly accepted moral norms.

On January 4, 2010, Ang Ladlad filed this Petition, praying that the Court annul the Assailed Resolutions and direct the COMELEC to grant Ang Ladlads application for accreditation. Ang Ladlad also sought the issuance ex parte of a preliminary mandatory injunction against the COMELEC, which had previously announced that it would begin printing the final ballots for the May 2010 elections by January 25, 2010.

ISSUE: Should Ang Ladlad's application for accreditation be granted?

HELD: The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender have the same interest in participating in the party-list system on the same basis as other political parties similarly situated. State intrusion in this case is equally burdensome. Hence, laws of general application should apply with equal force to LGBTs, and they deserve to participate in the party-list system on the same basis as other marginalized and under-represented sectors.

It bears stressing that our finding that COMELECs act of differentiating LGBTs from heterosexuals insofar as the party-list system is concerned does not imply that any other law distinguishing between heterosexuals and homosexuals under different circumstances would similarly fail. The Court disagree with the OSGs position that homosexuals are a class in themselves for the purposes of the equal protection clause. It should not single out homosexuals as a separate class meriting special or differentiated treatment. We have not received sufficient evidence to this effect, and it is simply unnecessary to make such a ruling today. Petitioner itself has merely demanded that it be recognized under the same basis as all other groups similarly situated, and that the COMELEC made "an unwarranted and impermissible classification not justified by the circumstances of the case."

Under our system of laws, every group has the right to promote its agenda and attempt to persuade society of the validity of its position through normal democratic means. It is in the public square that deeply held convictions and differing opinions should be distilled and deliberated upon.

In a democracy, this common agreement on political and moral ideas is distilled in the public square. Where citizens are free, every opinion, every prejudice, every aspiration, and every moral discernment has access to the public square where people deliberate the order of their life together. Citizens are the bearers of opinion, including opinion shaped by, or espousing religious belief, and these citizens have equal access to the public square. In this representative democracy, the state is prohibited from determining which convictions and moral judgments may be proposed for public deliberation. Through a constitutionally designed process, the people deliberate and decide. Majority rule is a necessary principle in this democratic governance. Thus, when public deliberation on moral judgments is finally crystallized into law, the laws will largely reflect the beliefs and preferences of the majority, i.e., the mainstream or median groups. Nevertheless, in the very act of adopting and accepting a constitution and the limits it specifies including protection of religious freedom "not only for a minority, however small not only for a majority, however large but for each of us" the majority imposes upon itself a self-denying ordinance. It promises not to do what it otherwise could do: to ride roughshod over the dissenting minorities.

Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, and this freedom applies not only to those that are favorably received but also to those that offend, shock, or disturb. Any restriction imposed in this sphere must be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. Absent any compelling state interest, it is not for the COMELEC or this Court to impose its views on the populace. Otherwise stated, the COMELEC is certainly not free to interfere with speech for no better reason than promoting an approved message or discouraging a disfavored one.

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

In this context, the principle of non-discrimination requires that laws of general application relating to elections be applied equally to all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. Although sexual orientation is not specifically enumerated as a status or ratio for discrimination in Article 26 of the ICCPR, the ICCPR Human Rights Committee has opined that the reference to "sex" in Article 26 should be construed to include "sexual orientation." Additionally, a variety of United Nations bodies have declared discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to be prohibited under various international agreements.