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Jakarta Post

Bedroom bill: Silly in the streets, unenforceable in the sheets

  • Karina M. Tehusijarana
    Karina M. Tehusijarana

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, February 23, 2020   /   12:01 pm
Bedroom bill: Silly in the streets, unenforceable in the sheets Members of the Indonesian House of Representatives hold the eighth plenary session of the second session of the 2019-2020 session in the legislature in Senayan, Jakarta, on Jan. 22. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

In a scene from the bygone American TV show The West Wing, White House staffer Sam Seaborn tells his assistant Cathy about a small town that wants to make the Ten Commandments law.

“A town in Alabama wants to pass a law saying that if I don’t honor my father, I go to jail,” he says.

“How do they know if you're honoring him?" she asks.

"They've overlooked that problem."

The members of the House of Representatives who proposed the much-maligned family resilience bill seem to have overlooked the same problem, drafting a law that is not only overly intrusive and largely unnecessary but also utterly impossible to enforce. 

At a time when mammoth 1,000-page omnibus bills seem to be all the rage, the family resilience bill clocks in at a much more modest 98 pages, yet it still manages to be remarkably all-encompassing.

The bill's drafters said they want to make sure that married couples love each other (Article 24), that husbands bring home the proverbial bacon while wives "organize" the household (Article 25), that gay people and bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (BDSM) practitioners undergo rehabilitation (Article 85) and that sperm and egg donors go to jail (Article 139). They even branch out into interior design, putting in a clause that states parents and children, as well as brothers and sisters, should have separate bedrooms (Article 33).

Yes, the bill displays an outdated, backward-looking mindset toward gender roles and sexuality - to be expected as many of the articles were lifted wholesale from a 1974 marriage law - and yes, many of the articles are absurd to the point of parody and deserve all the criticism and mockery they get. 

But even if you agree with the moral principles behind the law - even if you believe that women should run the household while their menfolk toil in the fields, that homosexuality is a form of sexual deviance that can be "cured" and that even married couples shouldn't be allowed to role play a la Fifty Shades of Grey - how do you imagine such a law being enforced?

By what standard do the bill's drafters propose the love between a husband and wife be measured against to suit their purposes? 

Will the newly formed family resilience agency prescribed by the bill perform regular checks on our bedrooms to make sure there aren't any fluffy handcuffs or leather whips?

Will they force families to separate their 25-square-meter tenement houses into three bedrooms?  

In the same way that the Alabama town could not possibly know whether you're honoring your father or whether I'm coveting my neighbor's house, it would be virtually impossible to enforce this bill without creating an entirely dystopic society, complete with Thought Police and telescreens. Even the Party in George Orwell's 1984 wasn't that prudish. 

So why are we wasting time and effort to create a law that, even if you agree with it, will amount to no more than a symbolic gesture at best?

But what's more alarming than the family resilience bill itself, which was initiated by five politicians from a mix of nationalist and Islam-based parties, is the apparent instinct on the part of both the legislative and executive branches to create new, unwieldy, impractical laws and policies when they can barely enforce the ones we already have.

A number of politicians from nationalist parties have raised their objections to the bill, saying that it goes too far into people's private lives. The Golkar Party even went so far as to retract its support for the bill, claiming that the Golkar lawmaker who had proposed it had not read the draft.

But these same parties were on the verge of passing the revised Criminal Code (KUHP) last September, which would have made sex between two consenting single adults a crime.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's government has yet to make a firm statement on the bill, but it was the Jokowi administration that drafted the KUHP bill in the first place. In addition, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy has been in the spotlight for suggesting that "rich" people should marry "poor" people to reduce the country's poverty rate and doubled down on his statement when asked again. 

Even if you think that's a good idea, should that be something that a minister responsible for the government's poverty eradication policy go around saying? And why even say that if you can't make policy around it?  

Indonesia's laws and policies are confusing and tangled up enough as it is: so much so that the Religious Affairs Ministry twice felt it had to appoint a Muslim to be the acting head of the Catholic Community Guidance Directorate General because it misread a Civil Service Agency circular. 

Do we really need to add to the mess by creating regulations and making proclamations that are pointless from the get-go? It not only ties up public discourse and takes away time from things that actually matter but damages public trust in state institutions.

As Albert Einstein wrote in his book, The World As I See It: "Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws that cannot be enforced."