Malaysia's Mahathir Says Asia Won't Follow West on LGBT Rights

(Bloomberg) -- Going against a growing tide of legal reforms sweeping across the region, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Asia didn’t need to "copy" the west in accepting its lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender citizens.

Mahathir said western countries were disregarding the traditional family unit by allowing gay marriages and permitting gay couples to adopt children. His comments come after India’s Supreme Court struck down a 158-year-old colonial-era law banning gay sex, Australia legalized same-sex marriage and a Hong Kong court granted visa rights to same-sex expatriate couples in Asia’s premier financial hub.

"Sometimes Asians will accept western values without questioning," Mahathir said as he answered questions after making a speech at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. "But do we have to copy everything? If they one day decide to walk around naked, do we have to follow? We have our values. So I am proud that we have our own values."

In Singapore, senior members of the city-state’s business, political and legal elite have also backed attempts to overturn the country’s colonial-era law criminalizing gay sex. But even in Asian countries where new rights have been won, including in India, LGBT citizens still face discrimination. And prominent politicians often do not come out and openly support the reforms won by activists.

Mahathir, noting Malaysia cannot remain isolated from the world, said Asian civilizations and religions provide a unique value system even if the west believes "that only western values are real values."

"At this moment we don’t accept LGBT," he continued. "If they want to accept, that is their business, but don’t force it upon us. For example in the west now, men marry men, women marry women, and then the family is not made up of father, mother and the child, but is two men adopting one child from somebody. They call themselves a family. The institution of marriage, the institution of family, has now been disregarded in the west."

Research on the so-called pink dollar has shown countries take an economic hit for discriminating against gay and transgender citizens. University of Massachusetts Amherst Economics Professor Lee Badgett, who has studied the issue for the World Bank, calculated that India was losing around $26 billion a year in part by hindering its workforce and tourism sector.

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