Four myths in homosexuality debate
THE publication of the Health Promotion Board's latest FAQs on sexuality has set off Singapore's latest round of heated debate on homosexuality. It looks like Singapore will not be able to escape the destiny of other countries in entering a period of "culture war" over homosexuality.
Like in other countries, this issue is set to ignite impassioned arguments from all sides. It would, however, be tragic if, like in other countries, this causes a fracture in society that eventually inflames partisan politics.
As an atheist and a secularist, I have no reason to support anti-homosexual laws in Singapore; yet I have found it useful to try to move beyond emotive language, and clear a few myths from both sides:
1. People who are against homosexuality are stupid and bigoted
Most people who are against homosexuality are against it as a result of their religion. Many are well-educated and intelligent. Even though I do not have a religion, I respect those who do and I recognise that their religion is the basis of their moral beliefs.
The Bible and the Quran make it very clear that homosexuality is a sin and I believe Christians and Muslims have no choice but to condemn it.
Of course, one can argue (as many have) that many dictates of the Bible are no longer practised by Christians, but this is up to the Christians to decide, not people like me who are outsiders. If their religion, their church says that homosexuality is a sin, then it is what they have to believe in as pious followers. It is not about being stupid or bigoted.
2. Religious beliefs have no reason to be made into laws in a secular society
Even though I am a secularist, I think this argument is wrong. Religious beliefs as I argued above are the basis of a believer's moral compass. They are one and the same thing.
Laws are a reflection of a society's moral norms. If the majority of a society belongs to religions that believe homosexuality is a sin, these are also the moral beliefs of that majority.
And so, even if I strongly disagree with those moral beliefs, I respect those beliefs, and accept that the legislation in society must reflect the moral beliefs of the majority.
3. Homosexuality is not Asian and is against Asian values
This is an egregious mistake made by anti-homosexual advocates. The laws against homosexuality in Singapore were written by the British, whose laws reflect Christian beliefs.
Previous to colonisation, homosexuality was never illegal or even frowned upon in many Asian societies.
There have been many famous examples of openly homosexual emperors in China, and homosexual characters are celebrated in Chinese literature like the Dream Of The Red Chamber.
Pre-colonial Indian society was also extremely tolerant of homosexuals and transgender people. Incidentally, the Indian Penal Code was also written by the British, and India's Section 377 is almost identical to our 377.
Melanesian and Polynesian culture has also never been historically anti-homosexual. In fact, some Melanesian societies, such as the Edolo tribe, abhor heterosexual sex and instead encourage homosexual acts among men.
It is thus terribly misguided to say that homosexuality is against "Asian values".
4. Singapore law has always criminalised only homosexual acts
This is a myth and it is important to note that this is what I believe is the major problem with 377A. 377A was part of a larger Section 377. Previously, all sodomy was illegal. In 2007, the old 377 was repealed, and was replaced by a new 377 that criminalises sex with corpses, but the old 377A was retained.
What has essentially happened is that while sodomy between a man and a woman is now legal, sodomy between a man and a man is still illegal.
The problem with this is that while previously there was no discrimination - sodomy is illegal for all Singaporeans - now discrimination is obvious, since it is now only illegal for some Singaporeans, i.e., homosexual men.
If the Government had no intention of enforcing 377A, then it should have left the old 377 alone, and then everyone would be equally "illegal" under the law, even if this is not enforced.
It has caused this constitutional crisis itself by repealing a clause nobody enforced, and introducing a new section that discriminates against some.
At the end of the day, much as I feel that 377A should be repealed just on the basis that it discriminates, I know that it is politically difficult for any political party to advocate this.
This is because just a rough estimation of Muslims, Christians and moral conservatives would already constitute a majority.
Western societies started to repeal these laws only when politicians found it politically palatable, and much of it had to do with the changing interpretation of their religion by practising Christians, in these ostensibly Christian societies.
Singapore will be no different.
The writer is a former Nominated Member of Parliament and blogs at www.beyondtheemotive.com