MANILA, Philippines (ChurchMilitant.com) - The autocratic president of the Philippines has announced he intends to push for the legalization of same-sex "marriage" in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Speaking Sunday in his home city of Davao, President Rodrigo Duterte told a group of LGBT supporters, "I want same-sex marriage. The problem is we'll have to change the law. But we can change the law."
"The law says marriage is a union between a man and a woman," Duterte observed, adding, "I don't have any problems making it marrying a man, marrying a woman or whatever is the predilection of the human being."
Filipino gay activists cheered the declaration. Naomi Fontanos, executive director of transgender activist group Ganda Filipinas, applauded the prospect, adding "we hope it's not just an exercise in tokenism."
In March, Duterte was accused of backtracking on a 2016 campaign pledge to move the country toward legalization.
In a speech to the expatriate Filipino community in Myanmar, Duterte referenced battles over gender ideology sweeping the West.
"That is their culture," he said. "That's for them. That can't apply to us because we are Catholics."
But on Sunday, the president promised his gay supporters, "Whatever makes you happy, I will give it to you."
"Why would I stop it?" he added. "Why impose a morality that is no longer working and almost passé?"
Despite his appeal to faith in March, Duterte is known as an aggressive opponent of the Church in the Philippines. He accuses the Church of sex abuse and hypocrisy while boasting of his own womanizing.
In January, he signed an executive order providing citizens with free contraception and mandating sex education programs be implemented in the nation's schools. A member of his administration described the measure as "pro-life, pro-women, pro-children and pro-economic development."
Duterte's declaration of support for gay "marriage" Sunday promises to raise tensions further. The country's influential bishops have warned against pushing the country toward recognition of same-sex relationships.
Last year, Bp. Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao reminded the Philippine faithful that "marriage, as willed by God, is between a man and a woman."
Ongtioco was echoed by Bp. Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, who affirmed, "In the eyes of God, a married couple is a man and a woman."
"The purpose of marriage is to have a family, kids, but if the couple is of the same sex then one who will suffer the most in this situation is their child because it's not normal," added Bp. Arguelles.
Bishop Jose Oliveros, too, made his voice heard, reaffirming the Church's stance "is not a matter of rights but rather a matter of what is contrary to the nature of marriage."
Proposals for legalization of same-sex "marriage" date back to 2006, but none has been validated. Opinion polls from 2015 showed nearly 70 percent of Filipinos strongly reject recognition of gay partnerships.
The Philippines is the foremost Catholic nation in Asia. Roughly 80 percent of the population (roughly 85 million people) identify as members of the Church.
For now, the country retains bans on abortion, divorce and same-sex "marriage."
Since coming to power in June 2016, Duterte has proven to be a polarizing figure. Nicknamed "the Punisher," early in his administration he launched a bloody "war on drugs" that has killed thousands of people. In response to criticism both inside and outside the country, the president removed police from the campaign in October, designating the campaign the responsibility of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.