Malaysia is embroiled in controversies over allegations of sexual activity between a prominent minister and a political secretary. Is sex not a private affair and thus, any public exposure of this should simply be frowned upon and dismissed?
Well, the answer seems to be yes and no.
Most of us remember the Profumo sex and espionage scandal. Christine Keeler, the central figure in the scandal, was then a 19-year-old dancer and model in a nightclub when she started having an affair with John Profumo, the British War Secretary.
Later it became publicly known that she had also slept with a Soviet official having ties with the Russian intelligence. This caused public concern over national security which brought down the conservative British government in the 1960s. So, in this case, it was not just public knowledge of the sexual activity but more pressing matters such as national security.
Throughout history, many politicians and celebrities have been publicly accused of sex scandals which caused them their careers.
Sex scandals and exposure of private sexual activity per se are two different things.
Sexual activity generally occurs in private settings and this is something the public generally respects and expects. Hence, if a recording of you having sex with your wife goes viral, the thinking public would probably want the perpetrator to be punished for invasion of privacy. I would opine the same reaction to a public exposure of sexual activity between you and your gay partner in a society which accepts such relationships. They are respected as private relationships and sexual preferences.
So when does the sexual activity of politicians, carried out in private, become a scandal when exposed to the public?
We have to understand that politicians are evaluated differently from the common people especially if they hold important positions in government. Bottomline, the public expects them to maintain the dominant values, ethics and acceptable standards of behaviour.
While in office, they may be privy to security sensitive information and are also in a position to influence policies and how the wealth of the nation is distributed. The public will not tolerate a position where their sexual activities may influence national security, wealth distribution and policies. Hence, it is not just the sex itself that the public frowns upon.
Many times, leaders who had an affair with another woman or a prostitute had also burnt their careers when it became public. Western societies, though viewed as ‘liberal ’by the East, may forgive past extra martial affairs but appear not to condone ongoing extramarital affairs during office.
Former US president Bill Clinton and former US Senator John Edwards, for example, suffered major political setbacks because of their sexual affairs. Even Hollywood celebrities had their careers wrecked whenever there was public exposure of their adultery.
I opine that the public outrage is not to the sexual relationship but to the adulterous relationship. Adultery simply means that you are cheating on your spouse. There is a breach of trust in the relationship.
Society, West or East, will not support an adulterous leader. Firstly, supporting such a leader would imply that the society condones adultery. This will make their own relationships unstable, uncertain and complicated. The family unit is forever at threat and will affect commitments to marriage if such a value becomes pervasive.
Secondly, society views the adulterous leader as an untrustworthy person who lacks compassion towards his or her spouse. He does not care if he hurts his wife and children. Hence, whether the affair is due to gay or bisexual preferences it does not matter since it is still adulterous.
In Muslim communities, LGBT relationships are generally not condoned. I say generally because Muslims do recognise that there are some individuals who may be biologically predisposed to either sex.
However, I doubt that there had ever been any Muslim historical records of same sex marriages. Hence, such relationships or affairs will be rejected outright.
Likewise, adultery or even sex outside of wedlock is considered a religious crime. Hence, again, it is not just the sex but the values attached to the nature and circumstances of the sexual activity.