Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday said his country cannot accept LGBT rights such as same-sex marriage, dismissing them as “Western” values.
The blunt remarks come against a backdrop of what activists say is a growing intolerance towards the LGBT community in Malaysia.
“At this moment, we do not accept LGBT but if they [the West] want to accept, that is their business. Don’t force it on us,” the 93-year-old told a packed audience at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University during the second day of his state visit to Thailand.
“The institution of marriage, the institution of the family has now been disregarded in the West. Why should we follow that? Our value system is as good,” he added. “If they [the West] one day decided to walk around naked, do we have to follow?”
Malaysia operates on a dual track legal system that gives Islamic courts the right to handle religious and family matters for Muslim citizens, who make up more than 60 per cent of the population. Islamic laws are also overseen by individual states in Malaysia.
Mahathir, who returned to the premiership this year after a surprise victory in national elections in May, rode to victory based on widespread frustration with corruption in Malaysia. But the popular campaign to root out government malfeasance has overshadowed some of his controversial statements on LGBT rights and Jewish people, whom he has called “hook-nosed”.
Malaysia’s Islamic Affairs minister has previously spoken out against homosexuals, and in September Mahathir said same-sex unions were not suitable for Malaysia, which he doubled down on in his comments in Bangkok.
“For example in the West now, men marry men, women marry women, and then the family is not made up of father, mother and child, but it’s two men adopting one child from somebody,” he said on Thursday during the Q&A. “They call themselves a family.”
Despite his stance Mahathir recently denounced the caning of two women accused of having lesbian sex in Malaysia.
The punishment was carried out in front of more than 100 spectators in an Islamic court in early September in the conservative northern state Terengganu.
It was the first time women have been caned for same-sex relations in Malaysia, according to campaigners, heightening fears among the country’s LGBT community.
On the first part of his visit to Thailand, Mahathir met junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha and pledged Malaysia’s help as a facilitator for talks between the Buddhist-majority state and Malay-Muslim insurgents in the south along the shared border.
The region has been in the grips of a low-level but bloody insurgency for more than a decade, as rebels seek more autonomy.