Against the Odds — LGBT Couple’s Holy Union Despite Drawbacks

The couple posing with Reverend Agbayani while showing off their certificate. Marc doubts the Belgian government will honour the certificate and allow him to bring Dimple to his home country as his wife. Photograph by Alec Corpuz, 2018.
The couple posing with Reverend Agbayani while showing off their certificate. Marc doubts the Belgian government will honour the certificate and allow him to bring Dimple to his home country as his wife. Photograph by Alec Corpuz, 2018.

A Filipino transgender woman and a Belgian man enter into a civil partnership after meeting on social media despite their 47-year age difference.

The buzz inside the function room was festive, chirpy with gayspeak.

But when the ceremony began in earnest, all that remained was the hum of the air-conditioner and the reassuring tones of Rev. Crescencio ‘Ceejay’ Agbayani of LGBTS Christian Church Inc. as he presided over the union of Marc and Dimple.

‘Sexuality is not a choice, but love is,’ Agbayani said, blessing the couple—a Belgian man and a Filipino transgender woman 47 years his junior—at the gathering held at a resort in Hermosa, Bataan in the Philippines.

Couples that make that ‘choice,’ however, find themselves facing a lot of barriers in a predominantly Roman Catholic country that forbids same-sex marriage.

The Family Code of the Philippines maintains that ‘marriage is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman.’

As such, while same-sex couples can undergo religious ceremonies like Marc and Dimple, these rites are not legally binding. 

They won’t enjoy the same legal and civil rights and privileges of heterosexual couples, such as receiving a partner’s employment benefits, the security of owning communal property, insurance benefits, and being eligible to adopt.

Dimple getting ready hours before the holy union on 11 April 2018, where she will meet Marc for the first time.
Photograph by Alec Corpuz, 2018.
Dimple getting ready hours before the holy union on 11 April 2018, where she will meet Marc for the first time. Photograph by Alec Corpuz, 2018.

Love via Facebook, Skype

There are no official statistics on the number of Filipinos who identify themselves as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), but a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations in 2015 found that 85% of Filipinos believe that the LGBT community should be protected from discrimination.

An expression of such support was exhibited on a summer day in April, when about 50 friends and relatives of the bride gathered to celebrate the union between 30-year-old Dimple and 77-year-old Marc.

The two met on a Facebook group for ladyboys and, according to Dimple, since then they have ‘had an on-and-off relationship for the past two years,’ talking on Skype ‘all the time.’

Dimple said their conversations usually revolved around what she was doing in the Philippines.

Marc, a retired info-tech professional, often spoke about his three children from his two previous marriages.

The resort ceremony on 11 April was actually their first time seeing each other in the flesh.

Dimple said it was Marc who proposed that they have a church union. She recalled that a friend of hers had undergone such rites in Manila, with Agbayani also officiating.

Asked if she was nervous about opening a new, deeper chapter in their relationship, she said, ‘It’s not the length of the relationship. It’s how you feel for each other.’

Their age gap, language barrier and cultural differences don’t matter now, she said. ‘Sometimes it’s difficult for us to understand each other because we aren’t that fluent in English, but we do understand each other’s actions.’

Dimple adding the final touches to her appearance a few moments before the ceremony.
Photograph by Alec Corpuz, 2018.
Dimple adding the final touches to her appearance a few moments before the ceremony. Photograph by Alec Corpuz, 2018.

Most accepting’

While the Philippines is considered one of the ‘most accepting’ countries in Asia with regard to attitudes toward the LGBT community, the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics, or SOGIESC, Equality bill has yet to be passed. 

The proposed bill mandates the State to address all forms of discrimination and violence targeting SOGIESC. 

As of 7 December 2022, the bill has found traction, with 19 out of 24 senators signing the committee report recommending it. 

Marc, a twice-divorced father of three, takes a moment for himself before the union at a small resort in Hermosa,
Bataan. In a country without marriage-equality laws, unions such as these performed by Reverend Agbayani are
wholly ceremonial and are not legally recognised, but regarded as a declaration of the couple’s love for each other.
Photograph by Alec Corpuz, 2018.
Marc, a twice-divorced father of three, takes a moment for himself before the union at a small resort in Hermosa, Bataan. In a country without marriage-equality laws, unions such as these performed by Reverend Agbayani are wholly ceremonial and are not legally recognised, but regarded as a declaration of the couple’s love for each other. Photograph by Alec Corpuz, 2018.

Love is love’

Belgium, Marc’s home country, was the second country in the world after the Netherlands to legalise same-sex marriage. ‘If you love someone, then [it’s] okay! Boy or girl [it’s] okay,’ the two-time divorcee said. ‘Man, woman, it’s the same. Love is love.’

Despite the Certificate of Holy Union that he and Dimple obtained from their Bataan wedding, he doubts that the Belgian government would honour the document and allow him to bring her there as his wife.

Because of this, Marc said he would have to fly to the Philippines every year to see Dimple. It will be expensive, but he declares, ‘I will find a solution. I always find [a] solution.’

For her part, Dimple clarifies she did not marry Marc for financial security, and expresses her hope the Philippines would finally recognise same-sex marriage. This way, she says, such couples can receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

According to her, ‘I’m just happy I finally found someone who accepts me for who I am and I can spend the rest of my life with.’

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ArtIQulate is a publication associated with the Adenauer Fellowship, a scholarship programme by the Media Programme Asia, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Ltd.
About the author

Alec Corpuz

Alec is a seasoned photojournalist and photo editor at news.abs-cbn.com, boasting a decade-long career in the field. Additionally, he has served as a college lecturer for nearly ten years, sharing his expertise and passion with aspiring journalists. With academic credentials from the Asian Center for Journalism, where he earned a Diploma in Photojournalism, and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Ateneo de Manila, he has a strong foundation in his craft. Alec’s dedication to enhancing his visual literacy and his openness to diverse viewpoints underscores his commitment to the power of images in storytelling.

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