Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad urged Asia not to embrace LGBTQ rights as Taiwan prepares for a historic vote on marriage equality.
In a Thursday speech delivered at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, the 93-year-old leader claimed that Asian countries don’t need to “copy” the West in pushing issues like same-sex marriage or trans equality.
“Sometimes Asians will accept western values without questioning,” Mahathir said during a Q&A with the audience, as Bloomberg first reported. “But do we have to copy everything? If they one day decide to walk around naked, do we have to follow? We have our values. So I am proud that we have our own values.”
Next month Taiwan will sound off in a historic referendum on the freedom to marry. If a majority of voters cast a ballot in favor of LGBTQ unions in the Nov. 24 plebiscite, it will be first Asian municipality to legalize marriage equality.
If not, the semi-independent territory of 23.5 million would be Asia’s first to ban same-sex marriage at the polls.
Early polls suggest Taiwan is likely to embrace equality. A survey showed that nearly three-quarters of Taiwanese support full legal recognition for LGBTQ couples following a May 2017 ruling from the constitutional court paving the way for same-sex unions.
The court gave Taiwan two years to pass a legalization bill. Otherwise, marriage equality would automatically become law of the land in May 2019.
Mahathir said Malaysia wouldn’t follow in Taiwan’s footsteps.
“At this moment we don’t accept LGBT,” he continued. “If they want to accept, that is their business, but don’t force it upon us.”
“For example, in the west now, men marry men, women marry women, and then the family is not made up of father, mother and the child, but is two men adopting one child from somebody,” the politician added. “They call themselves a family. The institution of marriage, the institution of family, has now been disregarded in the west.”
The prime minister’s remarks follow a series of comments from Malaysian leaders in recent weeks targeting the LGBTQ community.
Earlier this month, former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi claimed an earthquake and a tsunami that devastated Indonesia was “God’s punishment” for homosexuality. Mohd Izwan Md Yusof, social and community development deputy director for the Islamic Development Department blamed all-male boarding schools for recent increases in Malaysia’s LGBTQ population.
Government surveys suggest that there were 310,000 openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people living in the southeast Asian country in 2017—a 79 percent increase from four years earlier. In addition, approximately 30,000 Malaysians identify as transgender.
Even as greater numbers of LGBTQ people are coming out in their communities, Malaysia continues enforce its colonial-era laws banning homosexuality.
A conviction for “gross indecency” could result in up to 20 years in prison.
Many hoped the May 9 general elections would usher in a new wave of progressivism on LGBTQ rights, but that has yet to transpire. In his diatribe against boarding schools, Mohd touted Malaysia’s state-sponsored conversion therapy program. He claimed 1,450 people have been “cured” of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Islamic official added that the $200 million program helps LGBTQ people “go back to the right path.”