How religion affects the general perception on homosexuals in Asia.

Manny Pacquiao, the famous boxer and evangelical Christian, caused a lot of controversy in a recent interview by saying that people who have a same-sex relationship are “worse than animals”.
[1. http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/feb/16/manny-pacquiao-gay-people-worse-than-animals]
By being an evangelical Christian, Pacquiao, who is also a representative of the province of Sarangani in the House of Representatives, is obliged by his beliefs to “preach Gods’s word and to set an example of purity and integrity”
[2. http://www.gotquestions.org/evangelical-Christian.html]

Whilst his comments caused a lot of outrage among the Pilipino people (and the world), it also showed a lot of people who agreed with the comments of Pacquiao.

Which leads to the question: how does religion influence the way people perceive homosexuals? In order to answer this question, 3 Asian countries with 3 different religions will be analysed on how they treat homosexuals. The countries analysed will be: the first country is Indonesia, a country where around 90% of the population considers themselves Muslim. The second country is the Philippines, where around 86% of the population considers themselves Roman Catholic. And the third country is Thailand, where around 95% of the population considers themselves Buddhist.

Indonesia

First off we start with Indonesia, where an article in the Jakarta Globe
[3. http://jakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/news/indonesia-among-worlds-least-accepting-countries-of-homosexuality-pew/]
states that 93% of the Indonesian people feel that homosexuality should not be accepted. It is believed that religion is one of the main reasons for the rejection of homosexuals; this is due to the fact that research in countries where the main religion is the Islam show that people feel that homosexuals should be denied by the society. A shocking development occurred in October 2015, when the Indonesian province Aceh introduced anti-gay laws.
[4. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-34612544]
Aceh, a province that is known for its conservatism, is the only province in Indonesia that is allowed to implement the Sharia law. The new rules state that gay sex between men and women can be punished with 100 strokes of the cane. This is quite strange, since the Indonesian government in general does not have any legal prohibitions against homosexuality.

The most recent outburst against homosexuals came on Monday the 15th of January 2016, when the Indonesian vice president Jusuf Kalla requested that the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) should not fund the country’s LGBT-community programs, which the UNDP designated $8 million dollars in total for the South-east Asia region. The Indonesian government also asked Facebook and Whatsapp to get rid of their gay related emojis and stickers (such as 2 men or 2 women holding hands)
[5. http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/02/17/being-gay-indonesia-isn-t-illegal-it-isn-t-accepted-either]

Islam

These are rules and measures Indonesia have taken in order to “prevent” people from “becoming” homosexual. But what does Islam itself say on homosexuals? There are 5 mentions of homosexuality in the Qur’an. These two show the way that Islam (in their holy book) reject homosexuals

  1. “…For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.. And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone)”Qur’an 7:80-81
  2. “What! Of all creatures do ye come unto the males, and leave the wives your Lord created for you? Nay, but ye are forward folk.”Qur’an 26:165

Furthermore there are a couple of Hadiths, things Mohammed said during his time as a prophet but which are not recorded in the Qur’an, saying that: “When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes.” And: “Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to.” These two Hadiths show that homosexuality is seen as a great sin in the Islam. Yet, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation since there are no official recordings of these Hadiths and they could have been distorted throughout the years.

But by looking at these mentions in the Qur’an and these Hadiths, one could understand why followers of the Islam are so hostile against homosexuals.
[6. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-punishment-for-homosexuality-in-Islam]

The Philippines

The second country that will be analysed is the Philippines, a country where the predominant religion is Roman Catholic. The same research that was conducted in Indonesia, on the perception of homosexuals in society, stated that 70% of the population in the Philippines think that homosexuals should be accepted within the society. This percentage makes the Philippines one of the most tolerant countries on homosexuality in Asia. [7. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbt-philippines_us_5614f92fe4b021e856d2d870]

Research argues that the Philippines gay culture started in the 1960’s, with a “western-notion of being gay” because of the colonial and western influences on the country, meaning that from that time on, it was seen as quite normal. Another aspect that helped establishing a gay culture in the Philippines was the fact that most of the openly homosexuals were wealthier gay men, who had a higher rank in society.

Today, same-sex activities are not illegal in the Philippines. However, the Philippines did not support the UN joint statement at the human rights council that insists that states have to end human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This leads to believe that although it is not illegal to be homosexual in the Philippines, the state does not always protect you either. Furthermore, same-sex relationships are not acknowledged and there are no extensive anti-discrimination laws in the Philippines.
[8.https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1861/2014%20UNDP-USAID%20Philippines%20LGBT%20Country%20Report%20-%20FINAL.pdf]

Roman Catholic Church

While the Philippines in general are quite tolerant on homosexuality, how does the Roman Catholic religion look upon homosexuals? The Bible states that having homosexual thoughts are not a sin itself, but putting these thoughts in to action are considered a sin. An interesting development in the Catholic Church is the fact that pope Francis, after he got elected the new pope, stated that: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Yet, he was not planning on changing the rules on homosexuality, meaning that it will stay a sin. This statement from the pope, and the influence of western ideas in the Philippines might be the two main reasons why people are (in comparison to most Asian countries) so tolerant on homosexuality.
[9.http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/24/popes-fine-words-on-homosexuality-are-useless-while-the-catholic-church-still-calls-it-a-sin]

Thailand

The third and last country that will be analysed is Thailand, a country where the predominant religion is Buddhism. Research showed that about 56% of Thai people between 15 and 24 years old think that homosexuality is morally wrong. Yet, Thailand is seen as one of the gay-friendliest countries (for foreign people) in the world. Thailand has been classifying homosexuality as an illness until 2002 and it took until 2006 before homosexuals were allowed to serve in the army. In general, Thailand is seen to be very hostile against its own people who are homosexual; this is one of the main reasons why there are no political figures or other role models who are openly gay.
[10. http://time.com/12603/thailands-intolerance-of-its-own-lgbt-community-will-surprise-you/]

An interesting development in protecting the rights of homosexuals was the in 2015 implemented law on protecting LGBT rights, people who are found guilty of discrimination among the sexes could risk jail time up to six months and a 20,000 baht fine, although, it still seems as if the friendliness is only focused on the foreign gay people instead of their own people. This might be a result of the fact that the tourism industry accounts to 17,1% of the country’s GDP.
[11. http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/09/10/thailand-introduces-first-law-to-protect-lgbt-people/ 

Theravada Buddhism

With Buddhism (Theravada Buddhism to be precise) being the biggest religion in Thailand, it is interesting to research how homosexuality is looked upon by this religion.

Buddha states that there are 5 rules on behaving according to the right attitude, one of these rules states that “I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from sexual misconduct” or in other words: “I shall not walk the wrong track in order to gain sexual pleasures” but it does not define what is meant by sexual misconduct. From a Theravada Buddhism angle, all relationships, either if they are homosexual or heterosexual, should be within a mutual agreement as long as this promotes the well being of both sides.
[12. http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_budd1.htm]

Yet, there are also Buddhists, who state that one who is a homosexual can never reach the “state of enlightenment” or be a real Buddhist, due to the fact that this person has performed “sexual misconduct” in their eyes, since the term “sexual misconduct” was never explained, by being in homosexual relationships.[13. http://www.tamqui.com/buddhaworld/Four_stages_of_enlightenment]
The Buddhism religion leaves a lot of room for self-interpretation, meaning that there are no clear statements from Buddha on this topic.

Summary

Although religion is a big factor in the way people look upon homosexuals, it is not the only factor. A big reason for homosexuality to be perceived as “wrong” can, in my opinion, mainly be found in the labelling theory: If an act is seen as “wrong” by the majority of a social group or by influential persons, the one who performs this act is seen as an “outsider”.

In Indonesia for example, the government makes a clear statement of being against homosexual acts, behaviour or expressions, leading to a joint understanding by the people of Indonesia that homosexuality is something that is unethical, although this statement comes forth out of an Islamic point of view.

In the Philippines on the other hand, homosexuality is much more accepted, due to the fact that the western influence on the gay-scene in the Philippines is way bigger than in Indonesia. Pilipino people, in general, have been brought up with the idea that homosexuality is just something that exists, and not something that should be bad.

Thailand’s perception of (their own) homosexuals was something that amazed me the most. While foreign homosexuals are welcomed with great hospitality, the Thai people seem hostile against homosexuals of their own. This is especially weird since one of the most important teachings of Buddha is: “Above all, do no harm to other or to oneself”

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