Will Gay Marriage Ever be Legalized in Asia?

Two weeks ago, the happiest place on earth got a whole lot happier. Tokyo Disneyland, in a move that surprised and delighted thousands across Asia, announced their support of gay marriages. While gay marriage is not currently legal in Japan, nor anywhere else in Asia, Mickey and his friends will, from now on, allow any gay couple to host their marriage ceremony on the grounds of the theme park and its resort.


While this decision may seem, to some, like a huge step forward for gay rights in Asia, for others, it's just another example of how far they have to go for legitimation. For the latter group, the reminder that they cannot enjoy the same legal rights as hetero couples might be even more sharply felt by the fact that one of the few places in which they can even hold a ceremony is a children's park built around a notion of make-believe.

With US President Barack Obama's open support for gay marriages in the United States, homosexuals and liberals across Asia have begun to hope this might lead to their own leaders rethinking their countries' stances on the issues. But the reality is that Asia is still far more conservative than America. In many nations, the main issue is not whether gay couples can be legally married but whether they can live their lives without fear of official persecution.

In some of Asia's Muslim countries, being gay is not just illegal but punishable. In Malaysia, homosexuality is punishable by law through caning and up to 20 years in prison. In Indonesia, fifty two regions have enacted sharia law from the Koran which criminalizes homosexuality--these laws, fortunately for some, only apply to Muslim residents.

Even in modern Singapore, homosexuality--specifically among men--is illegal. While arrest and punishment for this law is hardly ever enforced, attempts to repeal the ammendment to Penal Code that criminalizes what the code calls "gross indecency" between men continue to fail. Ironically, Singapore has a thriving and quite visible gay scene, with many prominant gay and lesbian citizens. The attitude of the ruling party here appears to be one in which residents can do whatever they want, but they should be grateful for the freedoms given to them and should never demand any kind of legal rights if they live even slightly outside the norm.

In some Asian countries, such as Japan and China, homosexuality is legal (or in some cases not illegal) but nowhere in the region is same-sex marriage legal. That hasn't stopped politicians or the public from raising the issue though. In the very Catholic Philippines, of all places, legislation suporting same-sex marriage has been proposed several times to the Philippines legislature. Of course, none have ever been passed.

In India, gay marriage is still not legal; however, last year, a Gurguon judge officially recognized the marriage between a lesbian couple. In Hong Kong, while gay marriage is also not legal, gay couples have been protected by Hong Kong's domestic violence laws since 2009. While at the present, this does not, according to then Minister for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-ching, "affect the Government’s policy stance of not recognising same sex marriage, civil partnership or any same sex relationship as a matter of legal status", it is a bold first step that could eventually lead to proper recognition.

One interesting approach to gay marriage in Asia is being considered in Japan. In March 2009, the Justice Ministry suggested plans--which seem to still be under evaluation 3 years later--to allow Japanese nationals to marry same-sex partners in countries where same-sex marriage is legal. While the marriage would still not be legally recognized in Japan, by allowing its citizens to be legally married overseas, the Japanese government would be taking a huge step towards acknowledging the rights of the gay community. Optimists even think this will lead to legislation towards eventually making Japan the first country in Asia in which gay marriage becomes legal.

In the meantime, gay and lesbian Asians will have to settle for the Magic Kingdom. Or, like the couple in the below video, go somewhere where gay marriage actually is legal in order to tie the knot officially--not that their union would be recognized where they're from.

Photo credit: Takayuki/Shutterstock

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.