Why real change will have to come from the people, and not the politicians

Posted on July 22, 2012

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The question posed to Anwar during the BBC interview on 12th January, 2012 ( from 1 minute and 55 seconds into the video clip below ) : Are you prepared to take the idea of anti-discrimination as far as gay rights?

The answer : We will have to review some of these archaic laws. We, Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia, generally believe and are committed to support the sanctity of marriage between men and women, but we should not be seen to be punitive and consider the archaic laws as relevant. We need to review them. We do not promote either form of homosexuality in the public sphere or domain. I don’t think we need to make apologies towards that, but I think to use these sorts of legislation, punitive, to punish innocent people, cannot be condoned or tolerated.

A very difficult question and, all things considered, a fairly progressive response, don’t you think?

FMT reports that on 18th July, Anwar was confronted with another difficult question on this thorny issue of the rights of gays. In the course of being cross-examined by counsel representing Utusan Malaysia in Anwar’s defamation suit against Utusan, Anwar is reported to have been asked if Malaysia should “discriminate against homosexuals”.

The reported answer : Yes. We do not give space to homosexuals.

Not very progressive, if you compare this response with that given to BBC, wouldn’t you say?

My honest opinion is that the view proffered to BBC probably reflects Anwar’s thoughts on this issue.

Why, then, the seeming inconsistency in the later statement?

Two reasons, in my view.

First, the views stated on BBC would, more likely than not, reach a fairly emancipated, liberal-minded, viewing audience. Whilst he clearly stated that there was certainly no intent on promoting homosexuality, he was equally clear that no punitive sanction should be contemplated for those in such relationships where it is a private matter. In other words, sex in public, hetero or homo, is a no, no, punishable by law. Otherwise, its your own business.

Had such a view been articulated in court, though, the local media would have gone to town, giving it optimum spin to paint Anwar out as not merely advocating respecting the next person’s right of choice of lifestyle, but aiding and abetting, nay, counseling a homosexual lifestyle.

The second reason, in my view, applies to nearly all politicians, from both sides of the divide.

A great reluctance to openly champion a cause which, privately, they may feel warrants support, simply because of a sense, perceived or real, that such a cause does not find favour with the masses.

The rights of the LGBT community is one such issue.

Remember Ambiga’s stand on the rights of the LGBT, and how she got whacked for it?

Do you recall any politicians standing with her on this issue?

Politicians are ever mindful that every five years or so, they need to go back to their constituents to renew their term in the legislative assemblies and as such need to steer away from issues that may cost cause them votes.

Four days before Anwar faced that difficult question in court, on 14th July, Senator Gan Ping Sieu and I, both on a panel of speakers dealing with the issue of human rights in Malaysia at the 6th Malaysian Student Leaders Summit organised by the UK & Eire Council of Malaysian Students, were faced with an equally difficult question during the Q&A session.

A young lady asked whether it could ever be envisaged that some time in the future, same sex marriages would be allowed in Malaysia.

Senator Gan did what most politicians do when confronted with such difficult questions.

He said a lot, yet said nothing.

The moderator asked me to respond.

I said that if MCA would move a private member’s bill in parliament to facilitate such same sex marriages, assuming an enacted law was required, I would urge civil society to support such a move. I explained that whilst the faith in which I was raised as a child taught thought me that marriage took place between men and women, the faith that I have come to fully understand and embrace now enjoins me to respect the next person’s right to make his or her own choices in life.

After the session ended, on the way out, a young student stopped me to ask a few questions and then she pointedly asked if my response was what it was because I perceived the majority of the audience might be of the more liberal kind, and that perhaps my response might have been different if I had been speaking before an audience of mullahs.

I laughed and told her that I did not have to do that because I was not a politician.

I suggested she check my response in an interview in the Staronline when I had been asked a question in relation to the possibility of a gay candidate in the next elections.

I reproduce the questions and answers below.

Q : Is MCLM prepared to put a gay candidate for a seat?

A: Yes. If he’s not a closet gay and is prepared to come out. Our concern is a closetted lifestyle makes you susceptible to extortion and bribery. I really don’t care who you sleep with but you need to be open about it. If you are gay and prepared to tell the voting public that ‘hey, look i am gay” and “I am offering to serve you in parliament and if you’ve cleared all the other criteria, I’ll back you. We will also back a transgender candidate if we get one. It’s also about changing Malaysian mindsets.

Q: But is Malaysia ready for that. Would such a candidate win ?

A: It’s a question of finding the right constituency then tailoring the right programme. If you give me a gay, give me a right constituency, I can confident we can go down. I think it’s worth the money even if we don’t win. In those kind of constituencies, MCLM will be going in to make a point. The process is about educating the public.

I’d rather a gay or a transgender who is honest than a heterosexual who’s got his bloody hands on the rakyat’s money! If the voters are left with a similar choice – here’s a transgender who’s got a track record that speaks heaps of his integrity opposing someone who’s got a track record of fraud and cheat and what have you. – you make your choice. I’d vote the transgender.

Still on the matter of the rights of the LGBT and Anwar’s statement in court, my friend Josh Hong wrote an excellent piece, “Anwar changing, again” that warrants reading.

One question he posed, though, that, in my view, turns the whole notion of rights and the very understanding of the same on its head!

Josh’s question : Why is granting rights to LGBT persistently interpreted as destroying the fabric of society?

Josh’s inquiry, put this way, acquiesces to the notion that the LGBT community has no rights save that which society, or its majority, confer on them, rather than assert a right they enjoy, at birth, in equal measure with heterosexuals for no other reason than that, like the heteros, they are human, gifted by the Divine with the right of choice.

An English judge summed it up this way : “For private persons, the rule is that you may do anything you choose that the law does not prohibit. It means that the freedoms of the private citizen are not conditional upon some distinct and affirmative justification for which he must burrow in the law books. Such a notion would be anathema to our English legal traditions” –  R v. Somerset County Council, ex parte Fewings & Ors (1995) 1 AER 513, at page 524