Why it is not time for gay rights in Pakistan
In the wake of the same-sex marriage bill passed by the New York Senate some people are supporting similar kind of rights for the (still closeted) gay community in Pakistan. In my view, it is disastrous to even think of it at this moment.
First, the gay community in the United States achieved their current rights after decades of continuous social, political and legal struggle. Yet even today, several states including the US federal government do not recognize civil union/partnership. Some states permit civil unions but they don’t equalize those to marriage. According to public wishes, like federal government, states also have their version of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to preserve the sanctity of marriage – that is a marital union between a man and a woman. This means that a civil union/partnership entered into one state is not recognized either on the federal level or in states which prohibit such unions. So if a same-sex couple enters into a civil partnership in Washington, D.C. – that union will not be recognized in Ohio. In Pakistan, on the other hand, there is no gay organization to document the discrimination they face and to convince the society for their rights.
Second, keeping the US case in view, we must remember that although there is no official religion in the US, still based on the cultural and social sensitivities majority of people do not favor the gay rights. Gay phobia is still prevalent in the US society. Moreover, the conservative groups are actively engaged in lobbying against the gay rights. Imagine about Pakistan where religious minorities are persecuted; people have no access to justice while the situation of women’s rights is dismal; will it be appropriate to raise a voice for the gay rights at this time.
Third, until recently, sodomy was a punishable crime in the several US states. In 2003 the US Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas decriminalized consensual sex between adults of the same sex. There is no Supreme Court ruling yet in terms of giving them equal rights such as a right to marry and having kids. In Pakistan sodomy is a punishable crime. This means the first step should be to repeal that law.
Fourth, the gay rights activists claim rights under the ‘equal protection’ clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution which says: “…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In contrast, Pakistan’s Constitution is Islamic in nature. Given the unanimous consensus in the Muslim world against homosexuality it is nearly unimaginable in our life time to see any acceptance or tolerance for homosexuality in Pakistan.
On June 17, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed first resolution condemning the discrimination faced by the gay people. Such support at an international level will bolster the legal and political struggle by the gay community for equal rights. However, it is important to note that resolutions passed by United Nations General Assembly and its other organs such as Human Rights Council, are not legally binding on the member states as this author claimed. Under Chapter IV of the UN Charter which deals with General Assembly, such resolutions are called recommendations. Recommendations or resolutions only reflect the view of the majority of the world nations.
There is no denying that Pakistan has its own share of bi and homosexual community and they will have to come forward for their rights. It hardly makes an impact when others speak on behalf of a closeted community. Moreover, it will be challenging to demand such rights when the longstanding issues like procedural changes to blasphemy or Hudood Laws are not addressed or when the state decides who is a Muslim and who is not. In a situation like this, it is better to prioritize issues.
Several people thought that this blog denounced gay rights. That is not true. The main idea was to compare the case of two countries and prove that any movement takes practical effort of decades to attain the rights. It is good to talk about attaining rights for a minority group in a society but at the same time it makes more impact when the people from the persecuted community step forward and document the discrimination or hardships faced by them. The same happened in the US. The gay people formed organizations, went to courts and their local representatives to prevent the work place discrimination (they didn’t exactly demand the right to marriage from the go) and from there they gradually begin pushing for the equal rights on the social, political and legal platforms. (The Times of Harvey Milk is a good documentary to take inspiration from).
In a conservative society like Pakistan it is hard to demand such rights primarily because our laws/constitution are deeply Islamic. I mentioned prioritizing them because certain issues (such as blasphemy, zina laws in Hudood Ord.) in our society are well debated for over two decades and yet people are hostile to reforming them. Suppose if those laws are reformed people can ask for other rights with confidence.
One thing should be remembered that international resolutions are inspiring but they hardly change the course of a country’s domestic law. For that the people within will have to struggle to reform the laws.
If the gay community feels it is time to take on the society they can do so by getting organized for a long battle. The gay community itself should write in the mainstream media about the issues they face so that the society know what they go through emotionally. The positive testimonies of the families of the out people will also help. Moreover, they should ask the opinion of moderate-liberal Pakistani religious scholars too so that they could argue their case convincingly. Social research in Pakistan on the adverse effects of not letting gays adopt their lifestyle can be helpful too.
Generally, many will agree that the gay rights issue is very complex especially in the context of Pakistan and one should be careful in paving a way for it. Also the supporters and gay community should be ready for the backlash. Social movement is successful only if sacrifices are made and the struggle is persistent.
That was the main idea behind this blog which it seems didn’t come across correctly.
In the end, I would like to mention this case happened in 2007. The gay community in Pakistan had an opportunity to come out and speak for their rights but they missed it by choosing to remain silent. (Check photo of the couple here).