Friday, August 24, 2007

The retention of S377A helps preserve the nation’s moral framework

Note: The arguments in my previous post had been repackaged and sold as another letter to ST Forum. Nevertheless, ST would not publish it. I wonder why. Here's the letter. I will switch topic and discuss evolutionism in my next installments. For an update on my blogging details see here.

I am disturbed by certain arguments presented in Jason Wee Kheng Hoe's letter to the Straits Times Forum, "Section 377A should be repealed - reputation in legal and multinational community at stake" (ST Forum August 16, 2007).

At the outset, he alleged that "many arguments favoring retention of Section 377A appear to be religious dogma masquerading as universal truism." While there is an embarrassing lack of any validation for his statement, assigning the "religious dogma" label to the opinions of some Singaporeans by virtue of their similarity to certain religious affirmations commits the fallacy of guilt by association.

In addition, he has unfairly excluded “universal truism” from all religions by default. Contrary to his assertion, universal truths are embodied in centuries of religious wisdom.

Mr Wee also seemed to have overlooked the basic fact that all adult Singaporeans, including racial and religious groups, do possess equal rights to freedom of speech. The State does not discriminate against any race or religion, and allows all reasoned arguments to be presented in the homosexuality debate.

Within a multi-religious society, the viewpoints espoused by the various religious groups should be adequately addressed, and not relegated to the fringe of society. When deriving a public consensus for the homosexuality debate, the failure to engage these religious groups effectively discriminates against a large population of Singaporeans, who understandably have their respective religious affiliations.

Surely Mr Wee will not deny anyone the freedom to express their perspectives within this multiracial and multi-religious country.

Concerning Section 377A, how the Singapore’s Law Society arrived at the conclusion that “those arguing for its retention were a minority” remains a mystery. Was there a nation wide poll to decide upon this issue? Was he referring to a “minority” of Singaporeans or to a “minority” of homosexuals?

While I agree with him that the socio-political fabric of Singapore is "grounded on acceptance and tolerance," he failed to specify the relevance of his statement. As Singaporeans are taught the national pledge since childhood, we do know what exactly we should be tolerant of. Regardless of race, language or religion, all Singaporeans are entitled to equal rights in the eyes of the law. This, however, does not mean that the law is obliged to tolerate everything.

Besides, there is no need to “blame God” for the alleged “genetic aberration.” Even amongst scientists, it is highly controversial and debatable whether homosexuality has a viable genetic etiology. Some homosexuals have even turned to a heterosexual lifestyle.

Furthermore, there are scientific papers suggesting that pedophilia and aggression have certain genetic basis. This, however, in no way justify acts of aggression or sexual intercourse with children. No sane Singaporean would lobby for the decriminalization of pedophilia-related crimes based upon genetic evidence. Similarly, the country cannot legally endorse all sorts of sexual paraphilias based upon genetic data alone.

The crux of this debate is actually a moral issue: is homosexuality acceptable according to the moral value system of Singaporeans?

Mr Wee claimed that “keeping section 377A and not enforcing it is an unnecessary burden.” I beg to differ.

Firstly, as Assistant Professor Yvonne Lee has previously stated, “If S377A is repealed, homosexual sex is legitimised, transformed from a crime into an 'alternative lifestyle' (Decriminalising homosexual acts would be an error, Straits Times May 4, 2007).” This provides the necessary legal and political momentum for gay lobbyists to push their agenda further. The retention of S377A assures the public that any possible social division secondary to controversial issues, such as the redefinition of marriage, will not become a reality.

Secondly, I question Mr Wee’s reasoning that the “retention of unprosecuted offences on the statute book runs the risk of bringing the law into disrepute.”

For example, Rule 28 of the Road Traffic Rules prohibits cycling on footways. The Road Traffic Act and Road Traffic Rules also prohibit pedestrians from crossing the pedestrian crossings when the lights are red. Although offenders of some of these rules are in reality seldom prosecuted, the rules are nevertheless indispensable for road safety reasons. If it is true that the “retention of unprosecuted offences” results in running the “risk of bringing the law into disrepute,” should Mr Wee also consider lobbying for the repeal of a myriad of other rules that are less frequently enforced?

While I agree with Mr Wee that Singapore’s “reputation in the legal and multinational community is important,” I believe he had missed the main point. Singapore’s status and success today are mainly attributable to effective leadership. Building upon strong family ties and a conservative moral framework, Singapore has gained the reputation of being a safe and trustworthy haven for investors and their families. Singaporeans and foreigners alike can trust the government for both their children’s academic and moral education.

I feel blessed to be a Singaporean, not simply because of the various economic and academic excellences that we have achieved as a nation, but also because of a number of intangibles that we possess as an integrated society. One such intangible entity is the country’s conservative, and yet delicate, moral framework.

The renowned philosopher, Sir Karl Raimund Popper, in his “Liberal Principles” advised his readers that the moral framework of a society is its most important safeguard. He wrote, “Among the traditions we must count as the most important is what we may call the ‘moral framework’ (corresponding to the institutional ‘legal framework’) of a society. This incorporates the society’s traditional sense of justice or fairness, or the degree of moral sensitivity it has reached. This moral framework serves as the basis, which makes it possible to reach a fair or equitable compromise between conflicting interests where this is necessary.”

Concluding his statement, he warned, “Nothing is more dangerous than the destruction of this traditional framework. (Its destruction was consciously aimed at by Nazism.) In the end its destruction will lead to cynicism and nihilism, i.e. to the disregard and the dissolution of all human values.”

Contrary to being an “albatross on Singapore’s neck,” S377A currently serves to preserve the delicate moral fabric of Singapore’s society. The repealing of S377A will change the law's moral perception of homosexuality, while its retention reflects the moral value system of Singaporeans at large.

Finally, the retention of S377A will also offer Singaporeans the confidence that the law will continue to protect society from an insidious, albeit gradual, degeneration of its moral framework. And this moral fabric is arguably one of the essential factors for the nation’s continued success.


Domch said...

Dear Vincent,

I would like to refer you to this blog 'A Life of Unlearning' (, and in particular to this Youtube video:

God bless,

Chee Soo Kiat said...

I am amused that you think the socio-political fabric of Singapore is based on tolerance and acceptance. That’s a rather naïve analysis of what is to all intents and purposes a one-party state that uses its monopoly control of the media and licensing of public speech to silence dissent, uses the courts to bankrupt political opponents and uses its position as employer to silence its employees, who can be sacked for speaking to the media without permission. What “tolerance and acceptance” amounts to in Singapore is a timid population tolerating and accepting the paternalistic, autocratic PAP. And the people are timid with good reason. They know what befalls those who speak out of turn. It is not the churches whose voices are not heard, for they are typically conservative and paternalistic like the government, but the voices of those who want change.

What you do not address is why gay people should need the consent of the state or of their fellow citizens for what they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms with consenting partners. They are not harming anyone, so the state’s interest, and that of any church, is illegitimate. It is a private matter, not a public matter. You might believe that homosexuality is a sin, in which case you are at liberty to forbid yourself such activity. If I do not consider it a sin, why should your morality be allowed to trump mine? We are both equal citizens, are we not, so why should your position be privileged over mine, when it does not impinge upon you in the slightest?

And since you are so happy to criminalise one set of people for matters of private morality, may I ask why you do not propose making adultery illegal, too? Or pre-marital sex? Or not honouring your father and mother? Or coveting your neighbour’s goods? Or making false gods?

You make a frankly distasteful and un-Christian attempt to equate legalising homosexuality with legalising paedophilia. Paedophilia should remain illegal, no matter what its cause, because it is damaging to children, who are not old enough to give proper consent to any sexual act. Decriminalised gay sex would be between consenting adults. Your analogy is false and insulting.

Your next analogy – to unenforced traffic violations - is trivial to the point of absurdity, since keeping s377a on the statute books has no comparable public benefit. It simply criminalises otherwise law-abiding people who are going about their business harming no-one.

You believe that Singapore’s reputation is not harmed by this socially repressive legislation, but I am afraid you are sadly mistaken. While Singapore has a good reputation for its business infrastructure, it is regarded as an anachronistic nanny state on social matters. While that is no doubt acceptable to religious people who set their moral compass by a 2,000-year-old book written in an age when barbarously authoritarian regimes were the norm, some of us prefer to base morality on whether or not we cause harm to others.

Finally, I have to ask why Christians and muslims are so obsessed by what other people do in bed. May I suggest you keep your nose out of other people’s sex lives and concentrate on your own?