Note: I have submitted this letter to The Straits Times concerning the homosexuality debate, which was published on 26th July 2007 (see ST Forum online version). I shall put the letter on my blog for the benefit of those who have no access to the ST archive; the forum is only available for one week, after which all letters are archived.
One of the issues being hotly debated today in Singapore is whether S377a of the Penal Code should be repealed, and whether consensual gay sex should be decriminalized. My objective in this letter is to contend that the homosexuality debate cannot escape a moral argument if our legislature is to respect the moral values of the majority of Singaporeans.
It is a known fact that multiracialism and multi-religiosity form the social fabric of Singapore. Indeed, as a multi-religious community, Singapore cannot ignore the religious component of its society. In its deliberation of the homosexuality issue, the government is obliged to give due consideration to the majority voice. According to Statistics Singapore (1), the majority of Singaporeans are not atheists, agnostics, or secular humanists without religious affiliations. In this country, the majority of Chinese are Buddhists (53.6%), the majority of Malays are Muslims (99.6%), and the majority of Indians are Hindus (55.4%). Within our multi-religious society, a common consensus on this issue can only be achieved by being mindful of the morality of the religious majority. As Assistant Professor Yvonne Lee had pointed out, "the attention given to fundamental moral values of the majority of citizens by retaining S377A in its entirety strikes the right balance." (2) Therefore, the disregard of moral values of a large population of Singaporeans who subscribe to religious faith is not the solution to the homosexuality debate.
I recognize that the Singaporean government has been gracious by giving credence to viable opinions of various minority groups. As homosexuals in Singapore are a minority, they should all the more avoid the disparagement of other minority, albeit opposing, views. These include those from the conservative sectors of various religions in Singapore. In his recent letter to the Straits Times forum, Dominic Chua Kuan Hwee hinted that "the prejudice of a small number of church leaders" should not dictate the position of other Christians. (3) How Mr Chua arrived at the conclusion, that a minority group of church leaders had indeed imposed their views upon the Christian majority, is baffling. Neither do we have any reproducible evidence to support his hypothesis. By applying the rhetoric of Mr Chua, I sense that the small minority group of homosexuals in Singapore is essentially promoting an agenda that would eventually dictate the conscience of the majority. Is it then reasonable to pressurize the religious majority to go against their moral convictions, and to accept homosexuality as being morally correct? Therefore, just as homosexuals cry out for tolerance and desire their voices to be heard, they should likewise encourage other minority groups within the nation to express their opinions, be they conservative or not.
The singling out of a minority group of conservative Christians or extremists Muslims, and to put them in a negative light would do little in our journey towards a common consensus concerning the homosexuality debate. The social fabric of Singapore depends upon mutual understanding and tolerance between various religious groups, and the intolerance of any religious minority would inevitably lead to disharmony, social fragmentation and religious apartheid. Furthermore, Muslims in Singapore are generally moderate in their theological perspectives. We are likewise not living in the time of the medieval Crusades. Christians do not form a majority group in this nation, with only 16.5 % of Chinese and 12.1% of Indians professing to be Christians. Pro-homosexuality writers like Dominic Chua would have done better if he had addressed the statistically more significant religious groups, for example the Islamic community, in his assessment of the influence of religions within Singapore’s society.
We must admit that the homosexuality issue ultimately cannot escape a moral argument within an inherently conservative and multi-religious society. Various writers had attempted to argue for the decriminalization of homosexual acts from a pragmatic perspective. For example, Consultant Therapist Anthony Yeo, had challenged the traditional definitions and values of the concept of family based upon pragmatic and experiential observations. (4) Some of his questions were, "Is there an ideal form of family life," and, "Are parents from heterosexual marriages any safer for children?" Anthony Yeo’s thought-provoking questions should perhaps result in more fundamental questions being asked concerning the definition of a family. For instance, "Who should possess the authority to decide what constitutes an ideal family?" "Should pragmatic considerations be used to redefine the family structure, apart from moral considerations?" And, "Should we follow the majority consensus of what makes up a family, or should we allow the cognoscenti to decide for us?"
Certain gay rights activists had attempted to assert their unalienable right to homosexual intercourse based upon two arguments. Firstly, homosexual acts are private, consensual activities between mature adults; and secondly, such activities do not cause harm to other people within a society. Taking morality out of the equation, are we therefore to allow the private, consensual sexual activities between family members (incest), adult and children (pedophilia), humans and animals (bestiality), or human and cadavers (necrophilia)? After all, such sexual activities may be private, consensual, and confer no harm to other people. Furthermore, should we allow polygamous marriages as viable family units in Singapore? Taking the assertion of such unalienable right to the logical extreme, are we consequently obliged to legalize incest, pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, and polygamy?
Finally, I conclude that the religiosity and morality of Singaporeans cannot be ignored in the homosexuality debate. Pragmatism alone cannot provide a satisfactory resolution to the discussion. Truth cannot be determined by merely the practical consequences of belief. Besides, a proposition that works does not necessarily mean that it is morally right. If pragmatism is allowed to be the sole consideration in the legislation of laws, then several criminal activities might even be justified based upon various pragmatic bases. For instance, the poor might be justified to steal, or to embezzle his company for financial gains. I therefore urge the government to seriously consider the moral value system of the majority in its derivation of a common consensus concerning the homosexuality debate.
1. See <http://www.singstat.gov.sg/pubn/papers/people/religiousaff.html>
2. Yvonne C. L. Lee, Decriminalising homosexual acts would be an error, ST May 4 2007.
3. Dominic Chua Kuan Hwee, Singaporeans need to be more historically conscious and reflective in debate on homosexuality, ST July 21, 2007.
4. Anthony Yeo, Let's debate without prejudice, judgment or condemnation, ST July 13, 2007.