While Thailand and Vietnam are currently drafting laws that would give LGBT couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, including marriage equality, Malaysia is still far behind in the advancement for civil rights.
Malaysia has a long history of anti-LGBT discrimination. Despite the fact that many citizens of the Southeast Asian country are either openly LGBT or tolerant of those who are, antiquated laws against sodomy and oral sex are still enforced, and men convicted of “gross indecency with another male person” receive severe punishment. Offenders can face up to 20 years in prison, as well as whipping.
Some are rejoicing over the impending triumphs in Thailand and Vietnam. However, activist and Justice for Sisters co-founder Thilaga Sulathireh says there is still a long way to go.
“It’s great that those who want to get married now have a nearer option to do so,” the 26-year-old said in an interview with The Star Online. “However, the condition in Malaysia is completely hostile, so I don’t understand how people getting married abroad would help to solve that.”
Certainly, the government should not have the right to control relationships, but some argue that while marriage equality is an important hurdle in the struggle for LGBT rights, it can overshadow other important concerns.
“Marriage should not be the only definition of victory for the gay community. There is still bullying in schools and hate crime, so people still can’t express themselves openly,” Sulathireh added.
Because of the Malaysian government’s intolerance of homosexuality, the country has no national LGBT organization—though there are some non-government affiliated organizations. Among them is Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual human and sexuality rights festival founded by activist and artist Pang Khee Teik.
“It is great when adults are allowed to marry each other, and this right should be celebrated wherever people realize that it should be,” said Pang. “But it is neither the most important right presently for LGBTs in Malaysia, nor should it be the only socially desirable destination for everyone, whether gay or straight.”
According to Pang, many LGBT people live in constant fear of the repercussions of their sexual orientation, including being fired from work, disownment from their families, and arrest for homosexual crimes.
“I long for the day when people are simply given the choices to determine who they are, who they love and who they want to tell that to, while their families and communities are allowed to support them,” said Pang. “And that together, we are recognized through our love for each other rather than our hate.”