Case Digest: Ang Ladlad v. COMELEC

Justice Puno's Concurring Opinion

The law speaks of "immorality" in the Civil Service Law or "immoral" in the Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers, or "public morals" in the Revised Penal Code, or "morals" in the New Civil Code, or "moral character" in the Constitution, the distinction between public and secular morality on the one hand, and religious morality, on the other, should be kept in mind. The morality referred to in the law is public and necessarily secular, not religious as the dissent of Mr. Justice Carpio holds. "Religious teachings as expressed in public debate may influence the civil public order but public moral disputes may be resolved only on grounds articulable in secular terms." Otherwise, if government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a "compelled religion;" anathema to religious freedom. Likewise, if government based its actions upon religious beliefs, it would tacitly approve or endorse that belief and thereby also tacitly disapprove contrary religious or non-religious views that would not support the policy. As a result, government will not provide full religious freedom for all its citizens, or even make it appear that those whose beliefs are disapproved are second-class citizens. Expansive religious freedom therefore requires that government be neutral in matters of religion; governmental reliance upon religious justification is inconsistent with this policy of neutrality.

The COMELEC capitalized on Ang Ladlads definition of the term "sexual orientation," as well as its citation of the number of Filipino men who have sex with men, as basis for the declaration that the party espouses and advocates sexual immorality. This position, however, would deny homosexual and bisexual individuals a fundamental element of personal identity and a legitimate exercise of personal liberty. For, the "ability to [independently] define one's identity that is central to any concept of liberty" cannot truly be exercised in a vacuum; we all depend on the "emotional enrichment from close ties with others."

The petition is granted.