The Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (religious affairs) Ahmad Marzuk Shaary was quoted as saying that the government does not rule out the possibility of amending the Syariah Courts Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1965 to mete out heavier punishments on LGBT because the current sentence under the Act, which provides for a three-year jail term, a fine of RM5,000 and six strokes of the cane, is seen as not having much effect on the group.
LGBT rights are enshrined in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. In past decades, many countries have reformed their laws including (1) prison reform to protect trans people and other LGBT people from being raped by inmates (2) immigration reform to enable post-gender reassignment surgery identity on passports and (3) legalising LGBT marriage.
There are many factors that can influence the personal choices made in terms of sexuality. Whether it is nature or nurture or a combination of both, a minority fall into the category of LGBT. Precisely because LGBT persons are a minority group, many among the majority have strong prejudices against them.
Hence life for an LGBT person is not easy. They might be scorned by their own families, friends and colleagues. They do not have a choice in being who and what they are. Gender and sexuality are a continuum. This includes hermaphrodites (people born with both male and female genitalia).
With the advent of genetic science, we now understand gender and sexuality much better. Even if some choose consciously to become members of the LGBT community, society should respect their decision and not pass judgement.
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Religious attitudes evolve over time. The major religions all had a tradition of slavery. During the Ottoman Empire, slavery was a common practice. The US Civil War in the 1860s was fought over the right of slave ownership. In modern society, no theologian from all the main religions would endorse such a historical tradition.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei introduced new laws in 2019 that included stoning for gay sex. The sultan retracted his decision after many high-profile celebrities called for a boycott of the many hotels he owned around the world, including one in London.
In 1986 the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa legalising gender reassignment surgery and hormone replacement therapy for trans people. He made this move after meeting Maryam Khatoon, a trans person.
Ahmad Marzuk Shaary’s comment made in the Pas heartland of Kelantan has repercussions for LGBT people. It might trigger hate crimes against them. They should not be singled out as an ill of society.
For most Malaysians, the government should address and tackle real issues like corruption and issues related to the people’s struggle to put food on the table. Many are struggling financially because of the pandemic.
The LGBT community should not be a political pawn in the game of politics or a distraction to divert attention from the government’s failure or unwillingness to address real issues.
Religious traditions are not set in stone as we have witnessed throughout human history. People, especially those in leadership roles, should emulate Ayatollah Khomeini who showed mercy and compassion towards trans people. This is merely being consistent with exercising mercy and compassion towards all fellow human beings.
Ch’ng Chin Yeow has an interest in many issues and subjects, including history, mineralogy and human behaviour. Based in Penang, he truly likes to be a busybody