Saying it contradicts the nation’s value system, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad rejected same-sex marriage or lesbian and gay rights Friday, two weeks after denouncing the caning of two Muslim women for attempting lesbian sex.
Mahathir’s comments likely would spur concerns from activists about his administration’s perceived hostility towards members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, analysts said.
“In Malaysia, there are certain matters that we cannot accept, although they are considered as part of human rights in the Western countries,” Mahathir told a news conference. “We cannot accept, for example, LGBT, and marriage between men and men, women and women.”
It was the 93-year-old leader’s first public statement against the LGBT community since he assumed office on May 10. The comments came after a presentation by the Malaysian human rights commission, locally known as Suhakam, in the administrative capital Putrajaya.
“Our concept of family remains the same: that couples with children, with their own children is a family, or even adopted children. But two men or two women is not considered a family,” he said.
The Penal Code in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation of more than 32 million, describes gay or lesbian sex as “against the order of nature,” and punishes violators with prison terms of up to 20 years and whipping.
Responding to Mahathir’s statements, transgender activist Nisha Ayub told BenarNews that many LGBT people do not think about same-sex marriage or gay-pride parades.
“Most of the transgender community don’t even think about marriage,” said Nisha, the first transgender woman to receive the International Women of Courage Award in 2016 from the U.S. State Department. “We just want to be able to live our lives on the daily basis as equal citizens.”
The LGBT advocacy group Pelangi (Campaign for Equality and Human Rights Initiative) urged Mahathir on Friday to address violence and hate crimes against “queer people.”
“How many more hate crimes you want to be committed under your government?” Pelangi said in a statement posted on its Twitter page.
Pelangi did not elaborate, but local media reports last month said unidentified attackers armed with sticks beat a transgender woman named Suki in Seremban, a town south of Kuala Lumpur.
Pelangi President Numan Afifi was in the media spotlight in July after he left his post as press officer to the Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq after being attacked on social media because of his sexual orientation.
Prior to that, Pelangi was criticized after it allegedly mocked the Islamic holy month of Ramadan when it organized a breaking-of-fast event in Kuala Lumpur during Pride Day in 2017.
Mahathir’s public rejection of the LGBT community came after two women each received six strokes of the cane early this month after pleading guilty at a Sharia court to charges of attempting to have sex in a parked car in the religiously conservative Terengganu.
After the caning captured headlines worldwide, Mahathir said his cabinet had determined that the punishment meted out was harsh, considering the two women were first-time offenders. He said the canings had tarnished Islam’s image.
But in 2014, Mahathir had accused members of the gay and lesbian communities of abandoning religion and following their emotions and lust.
“If you understand your religion, you will never be gay,” media quoted him as saying after a lecture in the International Islamic University Malaysia.