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Op-Ed

Not just about marriage, but a ray of hope…

Malaysian Eric Goh writes about his friends who used the rainbow filter to change their profile pictures in Facebook, a show of support to the same-sex marriage that the US Supreme Court finally allowed. Thanking those who showed support, Goh says that “this is not just about marriage, and not just about USA. It is about humankind to be able to live freely, to be who you are, to be compassionate and be in love with who you really love.”

By Eric Goh

These are all my friends on my Facebook I have compiled (so far) from yesterday till today who had changed their profile pictures to rainbow filter created and launched by Facebook to show support and to celebrate same-sex marriage equality in the US. I may have missed out some, and I also know that there are many more friends who are supportive to LGBT issues but may not want to change their profile pictures for some reasons which I can understand. But all the same, all I want to say is – whether you openly show support or are quietly being supportive; whether it is in the past or present; whether the effort is big or small (and even if it is just a bit due to religious factors); or whether it’s but a five-minute hop on the bandwagon of fame or all-time type of support – that it does not matter. I still want to say THANK YOU!

You may not feel that this is significant to you; or you may even think why anyone would go into marriage while some would be much happier without it since marriage does not guarantee love.

True, I personally do not believe in binding two people together with a piece of paper. However, what LGBT people have been fighting for a while is equal rights – that is, to be treated as equals of other fellow human beings in all aspects of daily human life.

Can you visit your partner in hospital, when the doctors say “family only”? Can you decide on medical intervention for him/her? Do you have a right to his/her pension? And if there is no will (testament), do you have a right to continue living in your partner’s house when he/she dies? For so many LBGT people, the answer is ‘NO’.

I have friends who were together for many years, but when the partner died, the deceased’s family got the full right to claim the dead body and refused the other partner to attend the funeral. Can one imagine how painful this could be?

There are also many areas that gay partners continue to be less fortunate, thereby not benefiting from the mainstream systems – including taxation, housing, insurance, et cetera

A legally married gay friend of mine brought his husband back home last year to Malaysia to meet all of his friends. We were told that their next honeymoon destination would be Bangkok. Out of concern, some of us advised him that Bangkok may not be a good place for them to go to as it is infamous for its sex industry; and for the newly wed husband who had never stepped foot in such a place, he may get curious, even be tempted, and this could create unnecessary conflict. Our friend replied with full confidence and in a very calm manner that the husband could go straying for all he wanted, but should they get a divorce, he would have half of his assets according to the law. As it is in the relationships of straight couples, isn’t that what marriage also gives? A sense of security?

For the past two days, I also have seen some reactions about what the big deal is, since many European countries already passed laws recognizing same-sex marriages a long time ago. The first country in the world to recognize same sex marriage was Netherlands in 2001. In fact, just last month, Ireland became the first country to legalize gay marriage by popular vote rather than by legislation. And so, some people ask, why is there now a need for rainbow profiles all over Facebook?

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Well, first of all, the rainbow profile app was launched by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team to show support to US for legalizing same sex marriage. Obviously, we need to acknowledge that they have a wider impact on social media; and they are Americans. Like it or not, as one commentator said: “Nothing is real until US says it’s real”. We may disagree with US in many ways, but we cannot deny they have a great impact to the world.

When Netherlands first legalized same-sex marriage in 2001, apart from the LGBT community itself, how many straight people in other parts of the world realized it? The same thing happened when Argentina, Spain, Canada… and even when UK legalized it one year ago. There were no huge celebrations like what we’ve been seeing these past few days in the news.

It may be too much to describe US victory as the world’s victory for now, but at least it made us all blink  an eye and gave lots of confidence and inspired many LGBT activists in countries where persecutions of LGBT people are still happening.

Over here in Malaysia, where people can be put into jail for what two people do in bed, this is indeed an inspirational news that gives lots of confidence and courage for many of us. And this is even if it is not same-sex marriage rights we are seeking now, but more of seeking for acceptance and non-discrimination.

I see many gay friends were courageous enough to change their profile pictures. Just this simple act alone is already a big step for many of us. Many straight friends also changed their profile pictures to show support. So one cannot be deemed LGBT just by looking at the rainbow profile. And then I also read that many took this as an opportunity to talk about LGBT issue; and discuss, debate and even draw criticism and attacks from conservative friends. To me all these are good signs because at least dialogues and conversations about being LGBT are taking place. Not all criticisms are positive, but then we know who among us are supportive and who are not. Now, you may even already know who your true friends are.

Verbal attacks are nothing compared to the experiences of many LGBT in countries where they are still being persecuted, put in jail, murdered, bullied until they take their own lives. You may not have seen or heard this before, but ask any of your LGBT friends (if you know any) and ask them about their fear that something similar could happen to them. The fear is constantly there. We take extra precautions when we go to certain places, behave in certain manners, or choose the words when we speak. We fear jeopardizing our lives, losing our jobs, be rejected by our families and friends. For some LGBT people, we come up with pretenses or acts that we have to put on for life.

Let me share my personal story. I knew I was gay when I was 13. It was like a long, never-ending nightmare for me to struggle through my teenage years when I found out I was different from my peers when everyone talked about their feelings and desires over girls and mine was totally opposite from them as mine was on guys. I kept the secret from everyone and hid my tears away, only to live in the shadows of darkness of feeling bad, guilty, and awful about myself throughout my high school years. I did not dare tell anyone, not even teachers, parents or my best friend. It was only in 1989, when I was already 18 – when I saw the picture of the former Mr. Universe Bob Paris and his partner Rod Jackson in white tuxedos cutting their wedding cake published on Chinese newspapers – that I saw the light and started to hope. Even after that, I still tried to date girls and almost killed myself when I was 22 because I could not “change” myself.  But that wedding photo was with me all the time, going with me like a beautiful garden of roses blossoming in my mind. It never went away, but guided me through the darkest days instead.

So, again, if you think that US same-sex marriage legalization is nothing significant, it is only because you are not us. You had not been through what we have suffered and struggled through.

This is not just about marriage, and not just about USA. It is about humankind to be able to live freely, to be who you are, to be compassionate and be in love with who you really love.

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So yes, I would say it is a victory that is worth celebrating for.

Rainbow pride

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