Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tackling Homophobia

In a dramatic change in tide, Argentina has passed a law legalizing gay marriages. With a predominantly Catholic population, Argentina has become a notable addition to a growing list of countries with a strong Catholic influence beginning to reverse the trend of longstanding discrimination against homosexuals.

While Spain had legalized gay marriage back in 2005, Portugal followed suite this year and also legalized gay marriages. Both countries, with populations deeply steeped in Catholicism, seemed to have reached a stage to realise the inherent inhumanity of discriminating against others for their consensual private concerns.

In fact there is a growing global trend to recognize the inherent rights of homosexuals and to remove centuries of prejudice, the convenient scapegoating of homosexuals, and of consensual homosexual activity.

In a growing number of predominantly Catholic countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Argentina, it appears that the Catholic Church has already lost this political battle and seems no longer able to dictate the kind of political prowess to prevent the removal of discriminatory practices and suppression of the rights of homosexuals.

It appears that other countries in South America and elsewhere are also exploring the idea of lifting the ban on gay marriages.

Of course the on-going Sodomy II saga here in Malaysia is not just a reminder of the political theatre that continues to unfold, Section 377b of the Penal Code, under which Anwar has been charged and is being tried, also serves to starkly reinforce the taboo of homosexuality that prevails here.

Perhaps the tide that is changing the outlook and perspective in many Catholic countries will be a good omen for other countries – and foretells of an impending eventuality. Having said that, I for one am not optimistic that we Malaysians are particularly bothered that such laws, which quite obviously and explicitly target a specific segment of the population, continue to persist.

There are few politicians indeed who have had the fortitude to speak out publicly against the inherent bigotry that such laws perpetuate. Yet, in all the outcry against the selective persecution of Anwar, there have been few, if any, prominent voices who have dared to bring attention to the fact that, as with other racially, politically, religiously, or gender discriminatory laws, we need to also take a close look at reversing laws and practices that legitimatise such bigotry against homosexuals.     

In 2008, over sixty member states of the United Nations backed a non-binding resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Not surprisingly, we – along with most African and Asian nations were not on the enlightened side of this resolution.

Sadly, discrimination against homosexuals remains the norm rather than the exception in most parts of the world.

Those who choose to wallow in their prejudice against homosexuals have no shortage of excuses and justifications. Even now, it is not uncommon to hear many simplistic and ignorant claims, for example, linking homosexuality to AIDS. Again, Africa presents a rather vivid reminder to us all that when it comes to AIDS, homosexuality is actually a red herring. AIDS seems most devastating and widespread in this part of the world where homophobia is rampant and in most of the countries which impose severe punishment against homosexuality.

Indeed, as has been widely reported both by the World Health Organisation and other credible international organisations, heterosexuals have been most responsible for the spread of AIDS in Africa and elsewhere primarily through unsafe sexual practices.

Aside from the “health” argument, others of course are quick to invoke the religious basis for the persecution of homosexuals. Of course, truth be told, religious arguments have also been - and continue to be - widely and conveniently used to justify so-called honour killings in many parts of Asia and elsewhere, to justify discrimination against women in education (think the Taliban), to commit genital mutilation (some would call it torture) against girls, and other atrocities.

In other words, religious justifications – as we’ve seen even through the actions of the Catholic Church – have been used to justify all sorts of tragic events, including, by the way, the Crusades! 

My point simply is that, while religious arguments against homosexuality (or other prejudices) are often invoked by many to justify their actions, these are not necessarily without ambiguity, fallacies, or contradictions.

As surely as the nation will continue to indulge in the political circus that is the persecution of Anwar, perhaps some of us will consider and ponder the wider symbolism of such political persecution.

Ultimately, as with any form of selective persecution, the persecution of homosexuals, speaks volumes about the moral decay not of the persecuted, but rather of the persecutors.

G. Krishnan