Well, the year ending has hardly been gay in certain quarters of the world, ehh. First, India goes back into the closet (if there can be such a thing!) and retrieves some archaic mumbo jumbo that says same gender physical relations is a criminal offense. Not to be outdone, Australia trumps this the very next day by declaring gay marriages to be illegal.
Now, bear in mind that both these countries passed these rulings AFTER their respective lower courts had already said – “go for it” or words to that effect! The Australian Capital Territory had passed a law just this October, legalising same sex marriages and then the High Court decided to play spoilsport by upholding the Federal Marriage Act that declared marriage was a state of bliss that could only be enjoyed between the yin and the yang. India’s High Court passed a law in 2009 validating homosexuality, which was neatly turned on its head by the Supreme Court on the 11th of December this year.
So what happens to couples who have tied themselves up into knots (pun intended!) while the courts battle it out? Many same sex Australian couples made a rush to the altar after the October ruling, and are now, barely a couple of months later, being told that the marriage is null and void. This certainly gives a different twist to the old bargaining staple, “buy one get one free!” In 2011, a Gurgaon court in India allowed two women to get married, who have since then successfully battled life threats and family displeasure and now presumably, would be right in thinking they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Do these courts even realise what a mockery they are making of emotions, of the very thing they’re trying to protect – the institution of marriage – and what a laughing stock these esteemed judges have made of themselves? For, if they do not trust a lower court’s ruling, why in the name of all that’s holy (!) did they allow the lower courts to sit on it in the first place??
And what of the impact on all those Indian men and women who dared to emerge from the closet in the hope that they are legally protected from being hounded and castigated? What happens to them now – do we just stuff them back into some cubbyhole? Apparently Law Minister Kapil Sibal sent out a message via Twitter saying that the government would consider its options to restore the 2009 verdict. Err. Umm. I hate to point out the obvious, sir, but this kinda statement in the face of public moral outrage only shows us that the government and the judiciary are on the back foot! What were you thinking when you allowed the law to be reinstated – or weren’t you??
Incidentally, one must of course connect all the dots and so make mention of the fact that homosexuality was held to be “carnal acts against the order of nature” in 1861 when the Brits were around subjugating and riding roughshod over a land where the Kamasutra originated from! And while India is still engaging in this inflicted moralistic tripe in this day and age, Britain is expected to pass the same sex marriage act next year – not that the lack of it affects celebrities such as Elton John who is openly living in with his partner and has two children too, besides! Instead of the Indian judiciary today going all regressive and upholding an old-fashioned Victorian (!) fuddy duddy law that was thrust upon us by invaders to our land, it would do well to delve into our own sacred scriptures and texts, where the Rig Veda clearly states: “Vikriti Evam Prakriti” (what seems unnatural is also natural.) Hmm. I would imagine India’s esteemed magistrates would better serve the citizenry if they issued a law against those myriads of cheating husbands instead! How about laying down a clause that says in the event of a married man indulging in infidelity, he has to pay his wife as well as the other lady a certain sum of money – small change for trifling with their emotions instead of walking away scot-free and leaving both women without any justice in their lives! How about a law that decrees the current hypocritical face of Indian society must change where such men become the exception rather than the norm?! There are plenty of unhappy couples in India who would welcome either this law or a societal shift in thinking that would make divorce less of a taboo word than it is.
But, I digress. Recently, while speaking to a fellow scribe who covers travel trade events in south-east Asia, I gained a completely different perspective on the whole issue – something that would be uber amusing were it not for the fact that it’s left red-faced protocol officers in its wake! Apparently, Islamic countries in this region are unsure of how etiquette is to be maintained whilst inviting certain European heads of state or senior ministers who have truly “significant others.” How is one to handle these unnatural spouses while espousing religious doctrines as well? I can’t believe this is even a consideration! Surely governments ought to be worrying about more substantive national issues such as building bridges or whatever they do with our tax money, rather than peek into peoples’ bedrooms!
It’s fairly well known that Russia is pretty hostile when it comes to homophobia; indeed, the law declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness was repealed only in 1999. Earlier this year, Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, was quoted as having said that same sex marriage was a “a very dangerous sign of the Apocalypse.” Forget politicians and religious leaders, what’s truly scary is a 2013 survey that found 16% of Russians said that gay people should be isolated from society, 22% said they should be forced to undergo treatment, and 5% said homosexuals should be “liquidated” (reference Wikipedia, LGBT rights in Russia.)
I am neither for nor against same sex relationships. Sure, it’s a mindshift from the usual heterosexual. Having said that, I do have some gay friends and they are marvellous and warm hearted. Many gays are the friendliest and kindest of people; it’s as if being reviled by society has given them an extra sweetness of manner rather than turned them bitter or harsh. I cannot say the same for lesbians yet, perhaps because they are still fighting their battles.
Yes, I agree that homophobia or same sex marriage goes against the prescribed norms of society and therefore, it is not easy to digest, but – who are we to condemn? Who set these ‘rules’ of society down in the first place – and why am I being bothered about some nameless faceless person I have never seen?? “Log kya kahenge” (what will people say) is a tenet most of us Indians have had indoctrinated within us from birth and therefore, each time any of attempts to break out of the mould, we first have to worry about this most important family member (log = people) whom most of us have never yet met but will live our lives out pleasing! Can we not be more tolerant? Half the world thinks that being blonde haired and blue eyed is the way to go, while the blondies spend their lives trying to toast their skin to be as brown as the other half! I really think what this boils down to is a matter of personal choice and not something that you or I can sit in judgement on. If we don’t like it – we don’t indulge in it. But how does that extend to my telling someone else how he or she should be living his or her life behind the privacy of closed doors? I do not hold with people who are bigoted enough to have all these mental barriers against homosexuals, Muslims, skin colour, casteism and whatever else that floats their boat!
I love living in Thailand, I really do. No, it’s not for the usual snide reasons that people associate with this country. It’s because of the humungous level of acceptance that prevails here. Sure, being Asia, it’s hypocritical; there are layers upon layers in Thai society too. But – there is a basic tolerance towards one’s fellow beings which is missing in most countries, be they Asian, Oriental or Western. Of course, some LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) groups here are also demanding civil rights for same sex partners, including marriage, property and adoption. I actually went for one of these open discussions to the Foreign Correspondents Club here about 2-3 months ago. And I couldn’t help marvelling at the passion displayed by the speakers; Thailand already has a greater degree of broad mindedness than possibly any other country in the world. They don’t seem to realise how lucky they are. The katoeys (ladyboys) have their own level in society here and today, live as accepted citizens; quite apart from the usual trade of bar dancers or hookers, many of them also hold down respectable jobs in banks, malls, hotels, multinational firms. It is becoming the norm now to see lesbian relationships out in the open, indeed, one of my students is in a relationship with her female Thai instructor. I spoke at some length to two such couples, where the ‘Dee’s’ (the female in the relationship) said they got into these liaisons because of being let down by men. Go figure!
On a lighter note and connected to the above, let me end with an anecdote. About a month ago, I went to a shop I’ve been frequenting for about two years now. Perhaps because of that (and also because the Thais never shy away from asking any personal questions!) the owner of the shop was emboldened enough to enquire if I had a husband. Upon hearing the answer in the negative, she then asked hopefully if I had a boyfriend. “Nope,” I said. “Ahh, then you have a Tom (the “man” girl)” she declared, in the satisfied air of one resolving a mystery. “NOooo!” I sputtered and, “Why?” she asked, disappointedly. She was so matter-of-fact about the whole thing, like – well, if it’s not one, it’s gotta be the other! And this is how I want to live my life. As ME. I will conform to the basic laws of society – thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not covet – but I want to be a person who has the right to do as she wants, eat as she wants, dress as she wants, live as she wants. Being ME is the most important thing to me. And if you don’t like it – take a hike!
This article first appeared in Caravan Daily. All rights reserved by the author.