KUALA LUMPUR Getting married on the upcoming anniversary of Malaysia's independence day on August 31 holds special meaning for the country's first openly gay pastor, who says he is seeking greater tolerance in this Muslim-majority country.
Ouyang Wen Feng co-founded a gay-friendly Christian church in the Southeast Asian nation's capital in 2007 that has been condemned by conservative religious groups. Homosexuality is punishable in Malaysia by caning and up to 20 years jail.
The 41-year-old Ouyang says he will tie the knot with his American partner, Broadway producer Phineas Newborn III, 47, in a ceremony in New York, which last month became the sixth U.S. state to legalize gay marriages.
"We plan to register the marriage on Malaysia's National Day on August 31, which means a lot to me," said Ouyang.
In Malaysia, neither civil nor Islamic laws, which run parallel to each other, recognize same sex unions and the subject remains deeply taboo.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is battling a criminal charge of sodomising a former male aide in a case which he says is a political plot to discredit his reputation among the country's Muslim majority.
Christians make up about 9 percent of the country's 28 million population.
Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Jamil Khir Baharom, who is in charge of Islamic affairs, recently described Ouyang's plans to wed as an example of "extreme freedom."
Ouyang was the subject of a string of criticism via emails and comments in the media following the establishment of his church four years ago. But Malaysians in general have not been hostile toward him, he said.
"I am not promoting homosexuality or gay culture but honesty, love, justice," said Ouyang.
Growing up in a conservative Christian family, Ouyang said he had wanted to be a pastor since he was 12 due to the influence of local church groups.
He worked as a journalist before going to the United States for further studies, and hopes to complete a PhD in Theological Studies from Boston University this year.
Ouyang said he "came out" in 2006 and published a book about coming to terms with his sexuality.
"A lot of people make the wrong assumptions and stereotype homosexuals, which is why I came out publicly and why I think other gay people should come out as well," said Ouyang.
He now lives mainly in New York where he teaches sociology and gender studies at two colleges and also serves as the staff pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church, but he returns often to preach at the church he co-founded, which is open to all regardless of sexual orientation.
Ouyang said while he believed many Christians were "okay" with homosexuality, most church leaders held an opposing view.
"They will say you can't do this, but my question to them is, do what? I don't have to do anything to be gay," he added.
(Reporting by Razak Ahmad)