Brunei’s New Penal Code and the Misunderstanding of Homosexuality

| April 11, 2019

Last week, social media and news outlets exploded with outrage over Brunei’s Syariah (Sharia) Penal Code Order (SPCO). Under the authority of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, this code was first introduced in October of 2013, but was not fully implemented until this April 3rd. Among other provisions, the code deems gay sex and adultery punishable by death by stoning, theft by amputation, and missing Friday prayers by imprisonment. In response, international criticism has flooded the internet, from celebrities like George Clooney and Ellen Degeneres to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to organizations like Human Rights International, denouncing the code as “cruel” and “barbaric.”

The office of Brunei’s Prime Minister released a statement just a few days before the final implementation of the code on April 3rd justifying SPCO, claiming its important role in allowing the country’s dual legal systems (Shariah and Common Law) to “run in parallel to maintain peace and order.” The international golden rule of state sovereignty inhibits any actor – whether a state or international body – from intervening in Brunei’s domestic law, and strategic sanctions that might typically force states to yield to external pressure – such as the threat of losing economic partnerships – are easily dismissed by the small yet incredibly wealthy oil-producing country. That is why the internet is essentially the sole avenue through which contempt from Brunei’s new legal code is manifested.

In particular, the harsh punishment for homosexual intimacy has been at the forefront of the backlash, especially in western nations like the United States. While attempting to strictly uphold Islamic values on sexual morality and the natural family through harsh punishment, the Sultan of Brunei seems to be forgetting the reason why both are so essential to society in the first place: they protect and respect the dignity of the human person. The reason that homosexuality is harmful to society is that it rejects the natural complementarity of men and women, denying each the ability to reap the benefits of their particular strengths associated with masculinity and femininity (from which sexuality cannot be detached). Furthermore, homosexual couples that raise children deny them the right to their biological parents, to a mother figure and a father figure, which will gravely affect their development. In this way, the grounds on which one must reject homosexuality are those that stipulate that it not only harms the family, but also the individuals themselves. These beliefs are not and should not be based on the idea that homosexuals are detestable, or less valuable than their heterosexual counterparts.

Nothing can justify the use of extremely violent – and not to mention, archaic – forms of punishment for sexual immorality, not even the belief that such measures will protect marriage, the family, and sexuality. In fact, the implementation of punishments that violate human rights so terribly demonstrates a lack of understanding of dignified sexuality and the family structure because they deny human dignity to individuals. Instead of utilizing constructive or supportive methods to address homosexuality such as therapy or religious guidance programs, or assisting parents in teaching their children about dignified sexuality, the code rejects the humanity of gay individuals altogether.

The government of Brunei is demonstrating that it does not see homosexual individuals as humans, but rather, as problems that must be exterminated. This act of stoning homosexuals to death is in no way commensurate with the act of homosexuality. It demonstrates the dangerous tendency that exists within communities that don’t support homosexuality (which are often religious) to misunderstand the reasoning behind their beliefs, leading to great fanaticism and, in this case, homophobia. The goal of said communities should be to demonstrate why being against homosexuality is not motivated by hate, but rather, respect for the value of the family and human dignity. They must understand and propagate these beliefs vigorously, first among their own communities, and then throughout wider circles. No room can be left for violence and the belittling of human beings.