Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sexual minorities, moral rhetoric and the Constitution

(Unpublished - Oct 24, 2007)

Sexual minorities, moral rhetoric and the Constitution

Dear Editor,

I refer to the Parliamentary reports pertaining to the discussion of Section 377A of the Penal Code.

The Penal Code, as part of Criminal Law, protects Singaporeans and residents in Singapore from harm. It is in no way a reflection of societal morality and values, since it was appropriated from British Law.

Furthermore, for one to have the belief that Section 377A reflects societal morality and values, indicates one's predispositions. Studies have shown that a person’s personal bias is related to perceptions of media bias (see Lee Tien-Tsung, 2005). Hence, moral perceptions of section 377A derive from persons who already are homophobic, and see neither bias nor discrimination in this section.

If we were to take the views of the majority and manifest them into policies, prostitution and polygamy may be outlawed, since these are two possible factors affecting the stability of families. The purpose of our Constitution is to prevent the tyranny of the majority and protect the minorities.

Thio Li-Ann reasoned that sexual minorities cannot be recognised as a minority group because of disputable traits that may not grant them minority status in Singapore. Race and gender are biological traits and our Constitution protects them. Religion and political affiliation are non-biological traits, yet are identities that our Constitution also protects. To exclude sexual minorities from protection, or worse, criminalise private consensual gay sex, is unconstitutional.

Our laws have been diluted by the moral rhetoric of opinion leaders who have risen to prominence in their respective professional fields. Religious representation at this level is far more skewed thanat the national level. This dilution, which has effectively influenced majority public opinion, has been maintained by the increased levels of religiosity in the country across the Generation X's and Y's.

At the same time, the politically-charged rhetoric of the "conservative majority" serves to galvanise the heteronormative hegemony in our society, manifesting in discrimination and hatred, as well as permit the political bullying of sexual minorities.

I believe that the rhetoric of "family values" and "conservative majority" is a guise to mask the fears that the repeal might undermine the moral authority of various religious institutions and in turn, certain individuals their respective communities and social circles hold in regard. Olson and Cadge (2002) discover that homosexuality is the most divisive topic in churches. The clergy, pastors and religious leaders are more concerned about denominational struggle, split and membership loss and choose not to discuss such a topic. Clammer (1997) observes the addition of services by churches in Singapore to "control the movement and retain members"(1997:193). All these show concerns over the sustenance of authority and power of the religious leaders in society.

The government should be unequivocal in the acceptance of sexual minorities and the recognition of their social, political and economic contributions to the nation. The retention of Section 377A displays its ingratitude and unwillingness towards acknowledging sexual minorities. This can be further compounded by the fact that sexual minorities are invisibilised because of rampant homophobia and criminalisation.

Sexual minorities deserve to have their spaces without the intrusion and ideological policing of parties that claim to be the moral majority. These spaces, contrary to widespread misinformation and fears, do not come at the expense of other Singaporeans, as we have seen successful integration of persons with special needs, and racial and religious minorities into society.

As Chua Mui Hoong observes, the PAP government chooses to follow, instead of lead. Fundamentally, above its obligations to society and citizens, the government has concerns about its popularity and legitimacy. People do vote and to an extent, decide what kind of government they want. Since such an issue is potentially divisive, it proves that society is indeed heterogeneous, indicative of diversity, something the"majority", whoever and however defined, is obligated to uphold.

We need to have representative democracy. Sexual minorities need fair representation and they need to have equal rights.

Ho Chi Sam

References:

Clammer J. (1997). Adaptation and Response: The Christian Charismatic Renewal. Ong J. H., Tong C. K. & Tan E. S. (Eds.) Understanding Singapore Society (Singapore: Times Academic Press) pp.178-197.

Lee T.T. (2005). The Liberal Media Myth Revisited: An Examination of Factors Influencing Perceptions of Media Bias. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 49(1): 43-65.

Olson L. R. & Cage W. (2002). Talking about Homosexuality: The Views of Mainline Protestant Clergy. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 41, Issue 1, pp.153-167.

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