US president Barack Obama explained same-sex marriage law to young leaders from Southeast Asia at a town hall session in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, saying that government policy on civil marriage should be equal for all persons.
People of different sexual orientation deserved respect and dignity “like everyone else,” he said when answering a question from a bisexual youth from Thailand, named Dara, who asked if anyone should be sent to jail for their sexual orientation.
“The simple answer to that is no,” Obama said to applause from a crowd of about 500 youths representing 10 Asean countries under the US Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
Obama said that while people had their own religious and cultural traditions, no one should force anyone to behave in a certain way.
“Part of the point we made in this debate was, if a church or mosque or temple does not want to recognise those marriages, they shouldn’t be forced to have to marry somebody contrary to their religious beliefs.
“But marriage as a civil institution by the state should be available to everybody, not just some.
“And so the point is, government policy should treat everybody equally under the law,” he told the audience at Taylors University, where the town hall session was held.
The US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in June ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutional, making it legal across the country.
Obama said the future of humanity depended on the respect people had for each other’s differences.
“I strongly believe that the future of humanity depends on us all treating people with respect and dignity and recognising that whatever your religious background whatever your ethnicity, whether man or woman, you have something in common with me – we are both children of God, we are put here for a reason,” he said.
He urged the young leaders present to promote the idea that everyone should be treated fairly in their countries, businesses and non-profit organisations.
“As soon as we lose that vision and start treating people differently because they are different than us, and we try to make ourselves more important, that’s when bad things happen in every society, that’s a universal truth.”
In Malaysia, the LGBT community is regularly abused by the authorities and laws exist in certain states against cross-dressing.
Last month, the Federal Court overturned a Court of Appeal decision declaring an enactment banning cross-dressing unconstitutional and void.
International NGO Human Rights Watch, in its 73-page report titled “I’m Scared to Be a Woman: Human Rights Abuses against Transgender People in Malaysia” released last year, highlighted various abuses suffered by the transgender community in Malaysia, including sexual assault by religious officers and prison guards, extortion, daily fear of arrest by the authorities and violations of their privacy rights.
The research, which covered four states as well as Kuala Lumpur, found that transgender women were regularly abused by authorities including the police and state religious department officials.
The report said that these women were also often humiliated by having their arrests paraded in the media. – November 21, 2015.