03/31/2014 05:25 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Sex Clubs and Stonings: Welcome to Southeast Asia

Whew. My husband and I made it back from our gay cruise to Indonesia and environs without being buried alive under stones, plus a brick wall being toppled upon this for good measure. Any survivors after 30 minutes, however, are permitted to go free. Such is Sharia law, implemented by the Sultan of Brunei last year, which metes out the death penalty to homosexuals.

Brunei is a "stone's throw" from the countries we eavesdropped upon. Scholars surmise that the Quran does not explicitly detail appropriate punishments, but homosexual relations are emphatically immoral and criminal.

Antediluvian, you shrug. Of what consequence is this hiccup of an oil field to those of us forging ahead with our gay civil rights?

It happens that Brunei has the second-highest Human Development Index among the South East Asia nations after Singapore, and is classified as a "developed country." Islamic fundamentalism is very much a part of this issue's global evolution.

Nearby is Thailand, with no state religion, although it's primarily Muslim -- albeit of the tolerant variety. Our particular cruise featured gay men fiftyish-sixtyish, fairly affluent, with the lion's share eagerly disembarking for nightlife in Punket. "You want girl-boy, girl-girl, boy-boy?" was reportedly on the menu of cabarets. ("We decided to start off with boy-girl," said one gent.) Meanwhile, I remained in our cabin researching the pre-Hindu, Buddhist roots of Malaysia, as if determined to qualify my maiden voyage to South East Asia for a Master's degree.

Brunei... Thailand... talk about extremes. Nothing like that in America!

For our excursion in Java to Borobudur, the cultural highlight of this gig, we were issued sarongs over our T-shirts and shorts to cover our knees while visiting this astounding holy site, the largest Buddhist monument in the East, dating from the 8th century. The ceremonial garment prompted some guffaws: Were our native hosts themselves really serious about complying with this arcane nod to ritual, considering the sweltering heat and humidity?

It was one more thread to the incredibly complex fabric of religious practice observed on this journey. The Hindu Bali family living hand-to-mouth in squalor did not question the preparation of their daily, intricate food platter for their deity presented so touchingly on their doorstep. (The chickens and birds pecking away at these offerings seemed to live as well as the people: a key point of Hinduism.) The teenagers in Day-Glo Nikes tapping away on cell phones throughout the bustle of Kuala Lumpur, dwarfed by gleaming high-rise financial centers, suggested devotion to tradition was soon to be a thing of the past.

So who was I to judge the cornucopia of contemporary Southeast Asia, which spans the stonings of Brunei to the sex shops of Punket? After all, I was raised in a pastel cinderblock suburban Protestant church: "This is the blood of Christ" intoned as we sipped Welch's grape juice.

Where would the Sultan of Brunei be without the Heathens to define and reinforce such dogma? Where would the flesh seekers in Thailand be if sex was sold on every block like Starbucks?

Sex=Shame appears to be the common denominator in most religions, which should in fact make us all kissing cousins. This could be a plank in the United Nations charter, a path to world peace.

We can agree on embracing, needing our polar opposites, since without them it would all fall apart, and then what? We'd have to start from scratch.