How 'Southeast Asian values' play villain to LGBT progress

In March 2017, President Duterte backtracked on his support for same-sex marriage in the country. 

‘That is their culture is,’ he said, referring to the West. ‘It doesn’t apply to us’.

‘That can’t apply to us, because we are Catholics.

‘And there is the civil code, which states you can only marry a woman for me, and for a woman to marry a man. That’s the law in the Philippines.’

The president, like other leaders of ASEAN countries, upholds a certain set of values known as Asian values.

For countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, Islam has been the first and favorite course of defense against progress in LGBT rights; in the Philippines, it has been Catholicism.

Asian values

The ASEAN SOGIE Caucus recently released a report on the situation of LGBTs in Southeast Asia, the first of its kind, where it says that ‘the ghost of Southeast Asian values’ still lingers in the region.

Over here, LGBT rights is still perceived as a Western concept. For ASEAN countries, Asian values (or in our case, Southeast Asian values) include the concepts of paternalism and social order—family and society over the self.

These values are ingrained in law and politics, where an assertion of individual rights or self-expression may be construed as a challenge to sovereignty. In Singapore, for example, a one-party dominant system stands in the way of LGBT rights, seeing it as a threat to national security and the government.

History shows, however, that the Asian values that mainly stem from Taoism, Buddhism, and most prominently Confucianism, are not contradictory to LGBT rights.

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