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The Philippine Supreme Court overturned a decision Thursday barring a gay rights group from contesting national elections in May and recognized it as a legitimate political party for the first time.
In a unanimous ruling, the 15-member court threw out decisions by the Elections Commission denying accreditation to Ang Ladlad (Out of the Closet) on grounds that it tolerates immorality and offends both Christians and Muslims.
The justices said the party had complied with all legal requirements, and that there is no law against homosexuality.
"I felt vindicated," said the group's leader, Danton Remoto, an English professor at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University.
He said that Ang Ladlad had struggled for recognition and accreditation for the past seven years.
The Elections Commission caused outrage among gays and liberals in November by saying the group cannot run as a political party because it "tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs." Three of the commissioners cited passages from the Bible and the Quran to justify their ruling, claiming that Ang Ladlad exposes young people to "an environment that does not conform to the teachings of our faith."
Homosexuals are generally accepted in the Philippines and many prominent Filipinos are openly gay, despite the dominant Roman Catholic religion's rejection of same-sex relations.
The group has received support from Leila de Lima, head of the independent Commission on Human Rights, who denounced the November ruling as "retrogressive" and smacking of "discrimination and prejudice."
The group filed a case in January in the Supreme Court, which said that government is neutral and no legal impediment should be imposed on groups on religious grounds.
"The denial of Ang Ladlad's registration on purely moral grounds amounts more to a statement of dislike and disapproval of homosexuals, rather than a tool to further any substantial public interest," the court said.
Ang Ladlad is one of more than 100 parties seeking to win 50 of the 286 seats in House of Representatives allocated for marginalized sectors.
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