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When saying “traditional, conservative society” doesn’t cut it anymore

Posted by theonlinecitizen on September 19, 2007

By Joel Tan

The spotlight is once again on the fight for gay rights in Singapore- it is an increasingly emotional war of words and like all wars, is inherently fruitless.

I say fruitless because, after 22 years since the last review of the penal code and despite claims of greater liberalisation and open-mindedness, our laws, with revisions to the penal code earlier this week, still preserve section 377(A) which makes any sexual act between two men an act of “gross indecency”, against the order of nature and thus against the law.

Even casual followers of the gay issue in Singapore will know that this law is not actively enforced anymore- a policy of non-aggression on the part of our government, which may occur to some as an olive branch, or token of appeasement.

Indeed, there are gay people who live their lives completely disinterested in the debate over their human rights, simply because the law is there but has no effect on whether or not they can have sex with anyone they want. Section 377(A) therefore does not pose any immediate and critical threat to the gay community, but is this a fair reason to gloss over its non-repeal?

Of course not.

An ethical and logical gaffe

Section 377(A) is an ethical and logical gaffe like no other, and its non-repeal simply doubles the stupidity of it all. For a constitution that protects the equality of all parties before the law, and that upholds the equality of all citizens, Section 377(A) simply does not connect.

The reviews to the penal code have repealed the criminality of anal sex between a consenting man and woman, but not between two men.

Logically and ethically speaking, there is simply no basis for this. If the penal code, as a certain Yvonne Lee once wrote, is designed to protect people from harm- and in this case, ‘harm’ is understood as AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases- then it would suggest that, in the eyes of the law, a woman’s anus is cleaner than a man’s. By that token, consensual anal sex between a man and woman is more right in the eyes of the law than the same between two consenting men. One is more right than the other, but for no really solid reasons.

It is completely and unabashedly discriminatory.

The idea that homosexual relationships are any less right than heterosexual ones stems from Section 377’s roots in colonial history, which dates to Victorian ideals of the late 1800s. We can tell from the language used, particularly in “against the order of nature”, that there is a certain Christian sensibility behind section 377, a modesty and prudishness that forever aims to impose its views about what constitutes normalcy on those beyond Church doors.

Having been inherited by the Singapore Penal Code in 1955, the Christian sensibility set in our secular state eventually evolved into what is known today as the voice of the staunchly conservative majority.

A polite interest

In fact, the reason given for the retention of section 377(A) was that, despite an “emotional and divided” debate over the issue, it was found that the majority voice spoke against a repeal, and that it was Parliament’s duty to respect the views of more conservative Singaporeans. The gay issue is thus left to evolve on its own, which, really, is not saying much because there is only so much the gay community can do without some tangible support from the government, at least in the form of something beyond polite interest.

It is a polite interest simply because every time the issue crops up, the gay situation is quickly written off as something that has to develop on its own, and something that a majority of Singaporeans are not comfortable with. “Our society is still a traditional and conservative Asian society, and we must respect the fact that not everyone is ready to accept the homosexual lifestyle”. It is a line you can peg, like some relentless party whip, to almost any politician who chooses to speak on the matter. The story ends there, almost for sure, it is the final word.

The “conservative majority”?

The problem with this is that closing the matter there is not being fair to a growing section of society that is asking the government for a little more discussion on the matter, or at least more empirical information. We are told the government is a transparent one, and yet it gets away with claims like “a majority of Singaporeans spoke against repealing section 377(A)” without presenting any statistics.

In fact, since the conservative majority is used as a trump over the gay activists at every juncture of the debate, it is only right for the government to disclose how it arrived at the conclusion that a majority of our population is, indeed, conservative. And even then, there are questions we could ask.

How does the government define conservatism? Does the government take into consideration whether or not conservatism is really just a herd-like religiosity? Did the government derive its results from actual surveys and polls, or did it simply take someone’s word for it? Was the possible difference in values and beliefs held by different generations of Singaporeans taken into account when deciding the general prudishness of our society, or was the sample group taken only from more “mature” Singaporeans?

These are all important qualifiers to consider, and could affect the nature and focus of the debate over gay rights. And yet, the government simply tells us the black and white, and expects us to sit quiet in the wake of silly things like the non-repeal of Section 377(A).

Questions, open debate

This makes it clear that the government is really not as open to debate the issue as it claims, and seems to want to avoid it as much as possible. As a result, it has left a thorny mess in its wake.

For example, the government will not be seen endorsing a homosexual “lifestyle”, the first step of which is to legalise gay sex – yet it does not criminalise lesbian sex, so we really wonder what the government is trying to tell us. That homosexuality is an exclusively male issue? Or that a conservative society has problems with male homosexuals, but not female homosexuals? Or that two women technically cannot have sex?

It would be far more consistent, and less sexist, to criminalise lesbian sex too, because then the government would be more evenly homophobic. Even then, I am not saying that is a good thing.

For a debate that the government described as emotional and divided, we really seem to be hearing only one side of the story- the winning side. The disappointing thing is that it is the same old excuse again, no elaborations, and perfectly ad verbatim. I think that the efforts of gay activists and other Singaporeans, gay and straight, who wrote in to lend their views on the matter deserve more respect than a lazy parroting of the party line.

If the gay community is to be left with this final, discriminatory blow to the head, then it is only fair that they know, very precisely, why. I have always maintained that the government forgets, in its dealings with the gay issue, that it is playing around with the feelings, rights and lives of actual people- no truly compassionate government would dismiss an entire sector of society without batting an eyelid and offering an apologetic explanation.

The Singapore Government, therefore, needs a lesson in karma.

About the author: Joel is a new writer on the TOC team. He “is currently a national serviceman awaiting release and the start of the rest of his life.” Joel also writes on his personal blog, The Daily Backtrack, here.

Main picture from Funkygrad.

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44 Responses to “When saying “traditional, conservative society” doesn’t cut it anymore”

  1. Andrew Loh said

    Hi Joel,

    I’ve always wondered the same thing – what is this “conservative majority” that we always hear about? I have yet to see any in-depth survey or study on this. This is so unlike the govt which likes to bombard us with all sorts of statistics, figures and numbers.

    Also, I don’t believe the govt actually listens to the “majority” – there are numerous examples of this. For example, the GRC system is frowned on by many many people, high ministerial salaries, numerous ERP gantries, transport fares, etc..

    The majority of people all oppose the above – some even on moral grounds, just as the opponents of homosexuality do.

    So, I think the govt should come clean and tell us exactly what their reasons are – for not repealing section 377(A).

    Regards,
    Andrew

  2. 7. Thus, your article is right on the point. WHO ARE THIS CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY THE PAP ARE SO FOND OF QUOTING? Certainly NOT the majority of Singaporeans, who are the educated, younger sets BUT THE TINY ‘MAJORITY’ IN THE YPAP OR PAP ITSELF! Meaning that this “conservative majority” is the tiny ‘majority’ in the PAP, NOT the people at large.

    8. Thus, the PAP are quoting THEIR own tiny ‘majority’ every time they quote the “conservative majority”, NOT the public at large. It is yet another symptom of the inbreeding and incest they have practised since 1959.

    *Comments edited by moderator.

    **Robert: The article is about Section 377(A) and its non-repeal. The article is not about racism, YoungPAP, rigging elections and so on. Please keep to the issue. Apologies for having to delete the irrelevant parts of your comments.

  3. Lenox said

    I also support the views that statistics should be provided. The reason I felt that it was not provided is because it really does not seem like conservative majority.

    However, on the issue of GRC. I do support the Government. If not, it is highly likely that the minority races will be represented in Parliament.

    Perhaps, we do need gay representation in GRC too…… ha ha ha

  4. Lenox said

    Corrections:

    However, on the issue of GRC. I do support the Government. If not, it is highly UNlikely that the minority races will be represented in Parliament.

  5. Clarence said

    Even with a conservative majority on the ground, there need not be place for Section 377(a).

    Look at China, they’re no less conservative than us, in fact, you may say that they are more so. But do they have a law similar to 377(a)?

    No. And that speaks a lot for a developing country with a population that our grandfathers and grandmothers came from.

    Stop your bullshitting, PAP. There’s only so much you can get away with.

  6. Joel said

    I’ve considered the China point before, and I think that the reason why they don’t have anything similar to 377(A) is simply because they’d never have inherited it from anyone. The thing to note with Singapore is that our penal code was largely copied and pasted from the old Straits Settlements Penal Code when we took self-governance back in the 50s.

    377(A) is thus a matter of convenience and, today, the only reason why it hasn’t been repealed is because there are people who actually speak out against it. It seems that all it takes is one loud voice, even from a vocal minority as we tend to see amongst some religious groups here, to hold sway over social issues.

    The government, I think, would rather invoke the ire of the largely un-religious gay community than spark off complaining from religious groups like the Christian and Catholic Churches, as well as Islam. PM Lee once said that it is an issue we have to approach carefully because “some people regard it (homosexuality) as a sin”. Hmm.

  7. MG said

    Minor detail: the section we’re talking about is 377A – it’s not 377(A), or 377(a) or 377a. It’s 377A. Getting it right might help us avoid confusion.

  8. Despite being a gay man, I think it’s a real pity that so much attention is focussed on 377A and not 375 – the clause that allows for rape within marriage. Certainly, there’s an improvement in this revision, but there’s still so much more to correct.

  9. Your title is wrong.
    It is majority win. Even with so many voices in opposition, the ballot count is final.
    The ruling party or any party should gauge public opinion. If majority do not approve of gay activity, should the government risk itself to be voted out the next election ?

  10. […] Issues – Mr Wang Says So: Canadian Legal Expert Banned in Singapore – Joel Tan, TOC: When saying “traditional, conservative society” doesn’t cut it anymore – The Daily Backtrack: Misguided Honesty – footsteps1970: The Eye of the […]

  11. Mizra said

    I am hardly a supporter of the government, but i feel that it has merely taken a stand that although gays might be tolerated in Singapore, its another thing all together to actually condone it. I agree that statistics of the majorities views would be useful, but the government cannot hold a referendum every single time a “controversial” issue is raised.

    It must be noted that morality and the law is inextricable, and it would be naive to think that the societies moral views should not affect the shaping of the law. Although the numbers have not been particularly clear, i still feel there is a sentiment that homosexuality is unnatural and therefore should not be condoned!!!

  12. LifesLikeThat said

    Mizra,

    If we were to use the argument of “morality” or “society’s moral views”, as you mentioned, then I would think there is deep hypocrisy involved in the decision not to repeal Section 377A.

    This is because the govt itself, though citing “a conservative majority” as their reason, had previously ignored the same “conservative majority” in their decision to allow gambling – vis a vis the casinos to built.

    Also, remember what LKY said not too long ago. That there are many gay people among the creative set and that if Singapore were to thrive further, we need such creative people, even if they are gay.

    Thus, what LKY is saying is that: If gay people are needed for the economy, then the govt will, effectively, approve of them.

    Now, where is the consideration for the “conservative majority” or the “moral views of society”?

    Money talks. Period.

    It is disingenous to cite “conservative majority” as the basis for rejecting the repeal of Section 377A when the very words and actions of the govt says differently.

  13. khirsah said

    When I read this statement – “We are told the government is a transparent one, and yet it gets away with claims like “a majority of Singaporeans spoke against repealing section 377(A)” without presenting any statistics.” – I recalled a similar situation when several journalists where interviewing MM Lee on TV. One of them mentioned about having done a survey and quite a lot of Singaporeans fear reprisal should they vote for opposition. The poor chap faced a strong rebuttal from MM Lee with questions like how many is quite a lot? You interviewed them yourselves? Exactly what are they fearful about?

  14. Mizra said

    LifesLikeThat,

    I do not think it would be fair to say that govt ignored the conservative majority, because this majority was clearly recognized and accepted as a potential problem. However in that case, the utility of having a casino clearly overcame the fears of the conservative majority. Hence in that situation, there was not a ignorance of the conservative majority but that a balance was struck between the utility and the effect on the population (measures would be put in place to protect to conservative majority).

    On the issue of homosexuality, i do not see what measures can be put in place to reassure the conservative majority. Finally, as bad as it may sound, the utility of legalizing homosexuality does not outweigh the potential of rocking society’s morality. I may not be of this view and it would be helpful if statistics were given. However i do not think that we should a hold a referendum to make such a decision, therefore as unfortunate as it may sound, we may have to accept the current stand taken by the govt.

  15. LifesLikeThat said

    Mizra,

    Well, for a start, perhaps the govt should stop treating gay people and gay groups like some sort of pariah. It would be of immense help – in assuring the “conservative majority” – if the govt would propose some sort of dialogue with the gay community, instead of coming out and making pronouncements unilaterally.

    The govt should also not just be concerned with the religious rights or the conservative majority.

    Still, it still stands that the govt will recognise homosexuality if there is an economic imperative to it – whether the conservative majority likes it or not. That much has been said and that much will be done.

  16. Mizra said

    LifesLikeThat,

    First, i dont see how the govt treats gay groups as pariahs, however if it is happening, it should not be accepted.

    I agree that dialogue with the gay group would be welcomed, however at the end of the day the govt has to make a decision.

    I must stress that the govt at end of the day has to cater first to religious rights and for the conservative majority, unless there is a greater concern on why they should not.

    Lastly, i feel that homosexuals unfortunately do not inherently have rights, as rights are given to people by the society. Hence the onus should be upon the homosexual community to convince both the society and the govt that rights should be conferred on to them. I also submit that since it is agreed that this issue is a sensitive one, the burden of proof on the homosexual community to convince the public to accept them should be higher than that of a balance of probabilities.

    Therefore since the situation is one where we r still unsure of public sentiment, it is submitted that the burden of proof has not been discharged by the homosexual community. I dont see why we should be rushed into taking a stand on such a fundamental issue.

  17. The Bone Machine said

    Mizra,

    gays are unnatural? Well, maybe you should read up more, because homosexuality exists in the animal kingdom as well. And I’m just saying that because people seem to forget that we are animals…

  18. Mizra said

    The Bone Machine,

    Unfortunately we do not live in isolation, hence what the society thinks matter. Even animals live by certain accepted practices in the jungle.

    i am not against homosexuals at all. What i’m saying is that as of now our society has not accepted homosexual as being natural and therefore the onus is on the homosexual community to convince us otherwise.

  19. Mizra,

    You’ve simply created a straw man by concluding that homosexuality is amoral. Perhaps it would be better if you could explain why you deemed homosexuality as amoral.

  20. Kai Xiong said

    Mizra,

    I think you’re looking at the problem the wrong way.

    Our society is founded on egalitarian principles. And understandably so because of the practical need to accomodate a diversity of ethnic groups and beliefs. LGBTs are appealing to be treated equally. They arguing for more rights yes, but they are _not_ arguing for more rights than heterosexuals. They are arguing for their right to have sex and marry which we heterosexuals for granted. Therefore, the right question to ask is if 377A and the prohibition against gay marriages constitute discrimination.

  21. LifesLikeThat said

    Mizra,

    You said, in reply to The Bone Machine: “What i’m saying is that as of now our society has not accepted homosexual as being natural…”

    That is exactly the question we’re trying to determine – what constitute this “society” that you speak of?

    You also said, earlier, that you’d welcome some statistics on this “conservative majority.”

    So, it seems to me that this idea of a “conservative society”, even by your own admission, is hazy. Yet, you at the same time says “society has not accepted homosexual…”

    Who is this “society” and “conservative majority” that you are talking about?

    There is no evidence at all that there is this rather mysterious “conservative majority”.

    In fact, if you go by what is expressed online, the direct opposite is true – that most people either are not bothered or support legalising homosexuality.

  22. Mizra said

    I Must Be Stupid,

    with reference to my first post, i would highlight that morality and the law is inextricable. What matters is the prevailing morality of the society. As of now our society does not accept homosexual sex as moral, however over time the society may be convinced otherwise. In no way did i claim homosexuality to be amoral.

    My main point is that we must accept that laws are passed and accepted in accordance with the prevailing morality. Therefore for the law to be amended in the society must be able to accept these acts as being natural and moral. This could be done, as suggested by LifesLikeThat, by having more dialogues and discussion about the issue.

  23. Mizra said

    Kai Xiong,

    The issue of discrimination does not arise if the society sees homosexuality as immoral. Since homosexuality is not accepted by the prevailing moral standard, LGBT’s cannot complain for being treated differently in that society as it is in violation of the moral standards of society. Its hard to grapple with as we are uncomfortable in saying that homosexuality is something immoral. Like what i submitted earlier, that law in this area should only be changed if it can be shown on a test greater than on a balance of probabilities, that the prevailing morality has accepted homosexuality, as this is very sensitive issue.

    LifesLikeThat,

    i agreed earlier that statistics would be useful. In the same way that is it said that there is no evidence of a conservative majority, i am also not privy to any evidence with shows that prevailing morality has changed. That being said the law should remain in its present state until advocates of s377 being repealed can discharge the burden of proof, beyond a mere standard of balance of probabilities, that there has been a change in moral standards of society.

  24. Mizra,

    On what basis do you conclude that the majority does not accept that homosexuality as moral?

    And on what basis do you make this statement “we must accept that laws are passed and accepted in accordance with the prevailing morality”

    I’m sure many would agree that it’s amoral not to care for one’s aged parents when they are old and helpless. But is it illegal not to care for them?

    How about adultery? Many would surely deem adultery as amoral. But is it illegal?

    Who’s morality is it anyway? I find it amoral to discriminate homosexuals. Are we going to put all such people in jail?

  25. LifesLikeThat said

    Mizra,

    You said: “That being said the law should remain in its present state until advocates of s377 being repealed can discharge the burden of proof..”

    I think you have got it backwards. It should be the other way around!

    If those who advocate the present set of laws be retained, it should be on THEM to show proof of or substantiate their position!

    You don’t go around accusing others of something and then say, “Well, it is up to you to prove to me that I am wrong.”

    The burden of proof is always on the accuser – not the accused. At least that’s what I believe.

    Innocent until proven guilty. No?

  26. Ned Stark said

    Heh…while morality may play a part in shaping the law, it is not a given that laws are based on morality.

    For example, if you see a child drowning in the botanic gardens pond, you are under no legal obligation to rescue him. The law does not penalise you for not saving a person in trouble, odious that maybe to morality.

    However if u do attempt to save the person, and u make a botch of it, you can be sued.

    So much for morality eh?

  27. Mizra said

    I Must Be Stupid,

    First just a detail, amoral means morally neutral, i think what u r referring to is immoral. i concluded that prevailing morality does not accept homosexuality, because that law is in its present state. The main basis for law being law is that it most be accepted by the society. Hence since s377 is in our penal code, its only logical to assume that is has to be accepted by society.
    Next it must be noted that although morality is inextricably linked to law, not all morals are enforced. As u rightly pointed out adultery and many other moral violations are not punished. However at the risk of sounding repetitive society decides what which morals it would want to enforce. Hence with s377A in place it shows that our society at least at one point in time when the law was passed decided upon criminalizing this moral violation.

    LifesLikeThat,

    when the state charges a person for an offence the state bears the burden of proof, as the state is attempting to take away the rights of that particular individual. This mean that the state is altering the rights and changing the position of the accused, that is why the burden of proof is on the state.

    At present homosexuals do not have a right to perform homosexual rights, hence if these rights are to be altered, the people advocating for it must logically bear the burden of proof. Analogously the state who wants to alter the rights of an individual in a criminal case bears the burden of proof. In simple terms, if the rights of an individual is to be altered the onus must be on the party initiating the change. Hence this position is not inconsistent with the maxim of innocent until proven guilty.

    The real issue i feel here is that we may feel that the views of parliament are not representative of society. This is an issue which goes to the core of our politics. Hence the issue is not ab homosexuality per se, the issue is that possibly due to a lack of opposition we do not feel that the voice of the society is heard.

  28. Leakin said

    Mizra,

    I totally agree with your point that haveing a referendum on every issue to find stats on for and against on issues would be highly impractical.Anyways sometimes its not the numbers that matter but rather the voices behind those numbers.

    Having said so, i honestly believe in the power of open debate.When i say open debate i mean i would to see more views being presented in the newspapers and media, meaning i would like to see the people’s voices in the media.The media acts as a medium in which the government/institutions can communicate to the masses and the masses back.Now if the media is highly regulated, censored, controlled by the government, the government would actually be listening to their own voice!
    Gold 90.5 ONLY LISTEN TO THE GOOD STUFF(Selective listening)

    So when they say that Singapore is conservative because of asian values and what not and receive no negative response/feedback, they would actually be deluded enough into thinking that that is actually the voice of the people agreeing.

    Whether or not is Singapore is ready for equal gay right should be debated in the media.If the media only acts as a mouthpiece of the government then we will never know what SINGAPURA really thinks of issues such as this.

    “Destroy the press before the press destroys you”-major rule of politics.

  29. Leakin said

    I would think it be highly idealistic in fact naive to actually think/believe that the law reflects accurately societies voices and opinions esp when it has not been openly discussed debated in the public realm(again i blame the press for not doing its job).

  30. Mizra,

    ” i concluded that prevailing morality does not accept homosexuality, because that law is in its present state.”

    Aren’t you going round in circles? First you say that homosexuality should be illegal because the “prevailing morality” does not accept it. Then you said that because homosexuality is illegal, it means that the “prevailing morality” doesnot accept it.

    And since you have admitted it that not all immoral acts are punishable by law, shouldn’t we apply some consistency when criminalising “immoral acts”?

    Why pick on the homosexuals?

    I suppose laws should primarily passed to protect members of the society from harm. The act of being homosexual doesn’t cause any harm to anyone does it?

  31. Kai Xiong said

    Mizra,

    I had anticipated your response and I regret that I didn’t have time to present the counter arguments in advance.

    You’re confounding ethics with law. The law embodies ethical principles but not necessarily dictated by it. Nor should it because the same set of laws has to apply equally to everyone while ethical principles vary greatly in accordance with personal philosophy. When differing principles conflict (i.e. morality of homosexuality), how shall we resolve it? Your argument proposes that we pick the prevailing ones (i.e. homosexuality is immoral). This leads to a tyranny of the majority where minority interests are crushed.

    It raises yet another question. What if a particular majority is religious and derive their moral principles from scripture? Would that not be an imposition of
    religious values on the non-believing minority? Would that not also violate the separation of religion and state? On the homosexuality issue, many LGBT activists have already noted that much of the opposition comes from the Christian right and I have no reason to doubt them.

    Even when moral principles don’t conflict, you still have the inconsistent position of selectively choosing the subset to enforce. I Must Be Stupid has made a good case on this. So by what criteria did you derive the subset from? Clearly not morality.

  32. Kai Xiong said

    I Must Be Stupid,

    By way of pedantry, I have to point out that “amoral” means “neither moral or immoral” rather than “immoral”. I think you meant the latter.

  33. Kai Xiong ,

    mizra has already pointed that out to me. Point taken. Thanks.

  34. Joel said

    Mizra wrote: “However at the risk of sounding repetitive society decides what which morals it would want to enforce. Hence with s377A in place it shows that our society at least at one point in time when the law was passed decided upon criminalizing this moral violation.”

    This “one point in time” was in the 1930s, as history will tell us. Section 377A was added to the Straits Settlements Penal Code in 1938, and later absorbed into the Singapore Penal Code in 1955. I will wager that if it had ~not~ been written into the Straits Settlements Penal Code in the first place, there would be no such statute in place today. The problem today is not whether or not we need the law. Rather, it is that we would rather not get rid of it. The fact that it still exists today is because of an ambiguity surrounding the issue- people don’t know if keeping it in our laws is a moral issue or not.

    The Straits Times report that came out today quite unequivocally pronounced that some 70% of Singaporeans “frown upon homosexuality”, and the two main factors for these results were found to be religion and wanting to follow social norms. This may then answer the call for statistical proof of a conservative majority, but still doesn’t provide justification for keeping the law in place.

    If people really do find homosexual acts “disgusting” and “plain wrong”, then the call should change immediately from “don’t repeal 377A” to “let’s enforce it!”. Yet, the law is not enforced and is kept in a stasis. It is an interesting situation-a law exists that is paralysed, and therefore cannot set out to protect the “ideals and values” of the society that champions it. We keep it as a mere ghost of a law, something to appease those who don’t know what to make of homosexuality. Is it a moral issue? Or is it an ethical issue?

    Those who find it a moral violation are probably fuelled by religion and ignorance- what they perceive as a bunch of people out to overturn the family unit. That’s because the loudest sects that have made their voices heard in public are religious groups who use the love-handles of family to paint a picture of gay catastrophe. Gay people are out to turn other people gay and dim the appeal of procreation, because they can’t procreate! This is why it was found that married people with children who responded to the survey tended towards a negative view on homosexuals. Why, then, are these people seemingly content about the non-enforcement of 377A? We, as a society, could send these sodomisers to jail- for life!

    It is because, inherently, they know it is a great injustice. They know deep down inside that the non-repeal issue is an ethical issue- that by enforcing the law, we are persecuting people like you and me who just happen to fall on the wrong side of religion and centuries of majority-norms. They know this because by the time we are old enough to start thinking about these issues, we would’ve met at least 1 or 2 gay people who are completely normal individuals with normal aspirations and normal jobs and normal values.

    They know that the law is discriminatory, but HEY, since it’s not being enforced, well it’s not an issue. It satisfies everyone- it satisfies their vague and misty morals and it also helps them avoid the guilt trip. Of course 70% of Singaporeans frown on homosexuality- it is something we, as a society, don’t know enough about to throw a vote of confidence, and so we take the Singaporean approach in joining the time-tested side. But keeping that law there without enforcing it contradicts everything the government has to say about our laws being there to reflect social values and ideals.

    In any case, by calling this a moral issue, we are calling it an issue of right and wrong. The law is now telling us that it is right for two men to be sentenced to up to life in prison, because they had sex- and, if what Mizra says is true, then it is right because a majority of Singaporeans tend to think so. The government, on the other hand, seems to be telling us that it is wrong to prosecute two men for having sex because it is discriminatory and generally unnecessary. So, when you add one to one, you find that society believes in upholding a law that it does not want to enforce. Amidst all this stupidity, on the other hand, both parties are telling gay people all over Singapore that they are considered disgusting, immoral and wrong, and that society does not accept them.

    I wish this were so with adulterers and divorcees and fornicators- where is the non-enforcable law in place for society to tell them that they are frowned upon?

  35. Mizra said

    Maybe i have not been clear… Without going into a legal theory discussion, this is how morality is linked to the law. In theory society decides (by conduct and choices) the prevailing morality, laws are then passed based on the prevalent morality. This however assumes that the government is representative of society. Hence theoretically the law can be seen to be reflective of the prevailing morality of the society. I hope this clears the doubts of the circular nature of the argument.

    Next, what morals do we enforce and how do we choose them? there is no easy answer to this, society at the end of the day dictates what should be enforced. An example is adultery although it causes harm it is not deemed to be criminal offences, whereas other immoral acts like theft are criminalized. Again the caveat is that the government is representative of society. Therefore thru legislation the society what should be legislated against.

    i take the point made by Joel that this legislation is old, i would like to highlight however significant portions of our legislation are as old or if not older then s377A. My point is that just bcoz the legislation is not recent does not automatically mean that it is not representative of our society’s views. Hence my simple point if that it the law is to be changed the advocates must have evidence to show that there has been acceptance of the change by the community.

    Lastly before i leave and prepare for my tutorial tomorrow!!! i must highlight to Joel that i feel there is a difference from just tolerating to condoning an act. An analogy (its just an analogy) can be seen in a family setting, a parent may not like his child to act in an immoral manner but may tolerate it. It would be quite incredulous to ask a parent not only to tolerate it but also to condone it!! as the poll cited by Joel stated, that the majority does not like homosexual behavior, but nevertheless may be able to tolerate it (this is assumed as no one has been charged for s377A in some time). Hence i think it would be not advisable to condone an act that the majority still is sensitive too.

  36. Joel said

    And what a hypocratic society that is, that picks and chooses its morals for convenience. Gay sex has equally ‘immoral’ roots as divorce, adultery and pre-marital sex, and don’t tell me these are happily endorsed by society at large. If anything, their non-inclusion in our very judicious Penal Code is a vestige of patriachal British society that made allowances for straight male philandering; the same British society that gave us this problematic 377A. So along with their penal code, we inherited old British immorality. Brilliant. I knew I should’ve written in to reach.gov.sg to demand for the outlawing of adultery :p

    I don’t take your analogy because this is not an issue of tolerance, and in any case, to tolerate ‘immorality’ is to condone it. A child is bound by filial piety to listen to his parents, and a parent is bound by love to tolerate his child’s immorality. There is no such love-relationship between larger society and gay people. Gay people do not need the approval or tolerance of society at large to have sex, nor should they- it is a human right that harms no one.

    Non-enforcement of 377A doesn’t say that 70% of society “tolerates” gay sex- it simply shows that we’re all deeply convicted of how stupid and discriminatory it is. It is the mother knowing that her daughter appears immoral by wearing skimpy clothing but not saying anything because she is deeply convicted by how stupidly prudish and sexist society is. Then again, it’s just an analogy, gay people know better than to dress badly in public.

  37. Mizra,

    “there is no easy answer to this, society at the end of the day dictates what should be enforced”

    Of course if society at large deems homosexuality immoral and makes it a crime, what can the minority do? But this discussion should not be about who has the power to do what. Going by your logic, it seems that it was justified in the past to enslave the blacks in america. How about the repression of women thoughout most of history?

    Suppose if society finds that its ok to stone adulterers to death, would you find it acceptable? While they certainly have the power to do so, is it morally acceptable to you that people are stoned to death? What if the chinese population in singapore,which makes up the majority, decides to enslave the rest of the minority races and find such an act moral?

    If it’s not a good idea to base our morals on the opinions of society, what should we base our morals on?

    Logic and reason would make a good start.

  38. “In theory society decides (by conduct and choices) the prevailing morality, laws are then passed based on the prevalent morality”

    This is still a circular argument. It means that whatever laws are passed, no matter how unjust, is valid because it is “based on the prevalent morality”.

    You have to first explain why the majority deems homosexuality is immoral in the first place!!

  39. LifesLikeThat said

    Mizra,

    You still don’t get what we’re trying to say. As “I Must Be Stupid” said, you’re going round in circles.

    There is no proof of a “conservative majority” which determines the “prevailing morality”, as you put it.

    And since your argument is based on this “conservative majority” determining “prevailing morality”, your argument is baseless because you cannot offer any substantiation that there is actually a “conservative majority”.

  40. Onlooker said

    There is a nagging gut feeling that the so called conservative majority is either
    A) The MPs
    B) Elitist church group
    C) so called poll results. remember when m_Corp say that ACn is not accurately reflecting the stats of viewership 😛
    D) sidenote The unemployment rate is not accurate either.

  41. From my own experience, there’s a perceptible correlation between two of the four listed above.

  42. WeiHan said

    E) The conservative majority is a hypothetical assumption of the ruling party and wants to remain status quo for most issues including the politics.

  43. CL said

    “it does not criminalise lesbian sex, so we really wonder what the government is trying to tell us. That homosexuality is an exclusively male issue? Or that a conservative society has problems with male homosexuals, but not female homosexuals? Or that two women technically cannot have sex?
    It would be far more consistent, and less sexist, to criminalise lesbian sex too, because then the government would be more evenly homophobic…”

    it’s not all about ‘sex’, it’s about acceptance.. the right to hold the hand of your loved one proudly on Orchard road without being pointed at or gossip (not that i care!!!)..

    i figured – by not acknowledging that lesbians exist, they think we dont!
    for example, “Brokeback Mountain” made it to the cinemas, but they refuse to show romantic comedies like “Grey Matters”, and the show “Imagine Me & You” was rated R21 when the only scence in the movie shows Lina Heady and Piper Priabo kissing fully clothed! “Saving Face” was already rated R21 and still got cut too!

    now, it’s not only homophobic, they are also sexist!

  44. […] will become morally bankrupt or my mom will become a maid) to the oft cited but undefinable Asian Values of a Traditional Conservative Society. As long as people cannot (notwithstanding the relatively good […]

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