This week, Malaysians were shocked by news that a Muslim man, Azwan Ismail, had posted a video on YouTube admitting he was gay, but that he had learned to accept itself and urging other Malaysians to do the same. His video shone the spotlight on an ongoing campaign in Malaysia to push for greater tolerance of homosexuality. More importantly, Mr. Ismail has once again highlighted how difficult it is to be homosexual in Malaysia and other conservative countries.
Since the video broke, Mr. Ismail has received death threats, and Malaysia's Islamic clerics have responded with typical narrow-mindedness. Harussaini Zakaria, Perak Mufti, said Mr. Ismail has "derided his own dignity and Islam in general". Jamil Khir Baharom, Cabinet minister for Islamic affairs, said officials might take "appropriate action to prevent this from spreading because it would hurt Islam's image"
Baharom's response that Mr. Ismail will be persecuted exemplifies the narrow mindedness of the Malaysian establishment.
The fact is that such a response to homosexuality is a worldwide phenomenon. 74 countries worldwide have laws banning homosexual activities. There are Christian countries, Muslim countries, economic powerhouses and rural backwaters in that list. In January of this year, Malawi's first gay couple were put on trial, where they were mocked by the public and face a jail sentence of up to 14 years if convicted.
A map of countries outlawing or criminalizing homosexuality. Countries of all types are in the list, but the unifying feature is a a resistance from religious or faith based groups.
By and large, negative reactions to homosexuality have come from religious groups and religiously minded individuals. The Abrahamic religions all view homosexuality as forbidden (haram, in Islam), exemplified by the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is worth noting, however, that, according to Wikipedia "homoerotic themes were present in poetry and other literature written by some Muslims from the medieval period onward and which celebrated love between men. In fact, these were more common than expressions of attraction to women."
To me, however, there is no reason for the religions of the world to criticize homosexuals, or to push governments to declare it illegal. My reasoning is very simple: those who are gay do not harm their fellow man. The idea that they somehow erode the traditional definition of marriage is daft: allowing gay people to marry will not reduce the marriage rate among heterosexual couples. If a man and woman want to marry, they will marry, even though their next door neighbour is gay and is going to marry a man.
Is anyone seriously saying that love between a man and a woman is so weak that they don't marry just because gay people are allowed to marry?
So what if gay couples can be legally married? How will that reduce the marriage rate between heterosexual couples? If a gay man is forbidden to marry a man, he won't marry a woman!
In fact, allowing gay people to marry would encourage the creation of families, which, after all, are beneficial to the growth of children, should the couple choose to adopt. We are all familiar with the benefits of families eating, playing and working together. The kids have a stronger foundation in forming relationships, are more confident about themselves, etc. These benefits remain even though the parents are both of the same sex.
Now, on to religions and homosexuality. If religions do believe in mercy, love, and justice to fellow man, then, why do they push for bans on homosexuality? If the image of God that religions wish to project include a God that is forgiving, loving, just and merciful, religions should not press governments to ban homosexuality. Personally, I believe that the responsibility of religious bodies is only to ensure that their own flock do not become homosexuals and that those confused about their sexuality are given love and a helping hand.
I am not saying that religious bodies should accept gay marriage. What I am saying is that civil same-sex marriage should be allowed. For example, if a gay couple wants to marry, they can have a civil marriage, recognised by the state. Religious bodies would not marry them, because the Bible and the Quran do prohibit same sex marriages. The point of this post is simply to argue that religious bodies should not impose their views on everyone else. If the Church (or Mosque) doesn't want to marry a gay couple, don't marry them, but don't campaign to stop them being married under civil law.
If the image of God we really want to project is an image of love, let us also love and accept gay couples, and allow them to marry legally. If religions don't want to marry them, don't marry them, but don't campaign to stop them being married by the state.
If God really has a problem with it, then He will take action when we reach the Pearly Gates.
This view will not be accepted by most religious leaders, except maybe by the progressive pockets of organized religion worldwide. I myself am having some doubts about my stand, because I am a relatively devout Catholic. However, I can accept this view because I know the Church is an organization of love, justice and unity. This is simply the true practice of what we preach.