Friday, January 13, 2012

Homosexuality in Singapore

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Recently there has been quite an outcry following Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s disclosure that declared homosexuals would no longer be rejected for ‘sensitive jobs’ � later, he mentioned ‘government positions’ as some of these jobs. Quite unsurprisingly, the more conservative section of the Singaporean population proceeded to send some angry (and very poorly argued) letters to the Straits Times, venting their moral frustration at what they perceived as an acceptance of immorality.

I will now summarise my points as follows

1. Cultural relativism � by whose standards are you to judge? Why are your standards the only standards we should accept? Whose ‘unanimous voice’ is it? Can we use ‘majority claim’ as a simple clincher? No.

. Society’s advancement � as today’s society becomes more and more open, can we afford to restrict gay rights on the ‘reason’ that they are somehow deficient and ‘immoral’? Is this behaviour regressive? Yes � we cannot afford to be left behind by the rest of the world, we cannot afford to be held back by old beliefs that may or may not apply.

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. Economic competitiveness � open, vibrant culture can attract more talent, homosexual or heterosexual. We cannot be blind to the talent of homosexuals just because of their sexual orientation, etc.

4. Tenuous link between performance and homosexuality � how does being gay affect one’s work? How does doing something considered ‘immoral’ affect one’s work in concrete terms? This is like saying that criminals cannot be trusted on anything.

5. Solutions are not given � how do you propose to solve this problem? Can we just leave them out in the dark? That is rather inhuman, is it not? Can we isolate them from good jobs and not isolate them from our world as well? Not everything is solvable through counselling.

6. The Pope’s message � even if we should condemn homosexuality as a sin we should not restrict their activity. We can try to help them, but we should not treat them with intolerance. This moderation is key.

I will however claim that homosexuality is a part of society that we cannot just shunt aside on the pretext of ‘immorality’. What is immoral to a certain culture is not immoral to all cultures. There is a set of values that the general world society now uses (and by ‘general’ I mean it as a sweeping statement of sentiment I do not begin to claim that everyone holds this view!) and this set of values includes tolerance. It is not up to any group of people to decide, by majority or not, to proclaim the absolute immorality of something.

I do understand that sexual love between two men or two women is rather repugnant and indeed inconceivable by the ‘rest of us’ but that does not mean that these perceptions should affect our better judgements. For surely we do not hate the name of homosexuality, but we may hate the actions and the images associated with such actions. We have to realise that we are not homosexual and thus understand less about their behaviour than they would.

It would be much simpler and much more helpful for religion and its (sometimes fanatical) adherents to turn a blind eye to cases like these. Quite simply, it is not the business of religious communities to go around poking their noses into the bedrooms of gay or lesbian couples, and say in disgust, ‘Your actions are immoral � you offend me and have no place in our world.’ Neither do they have the power to do this. I hope I am not misinterpreting the doctrine of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ here, but rejecting homosexuals because they happen to be different to us does not exactly seem to me like ‘loving the sinner’. Only the most skilled in doublethink would say to us straight-faced that rejecting him is for the country’s good, and that it is our way of loving him.

It is implausible for a culture like ours, which prides itself on being modern and diverse, to reject people � like the rest of us in every other way � because of their sexual orientation. Saying that one is somehow deficient because he or she is homosexual is a blinkered way of thinking. How does homosexuality affect one’s faculties of thought? Or is one going to suppose that the gay man spends his time in office fantasising about sodomy? Surely not. The homosexual is perfectly capable of being a good worker, a talented worker even, and there is no reason why he should not be a position of power so long as he does not abuse it, so long as he is of sound mind.

This is not just an act of rejection to the homosexuals themselves. This is a rejection of values such as tolerance and acceptance that we have held dear for so long. This is a reversion � I would not go so far as to say atavistic, but it is not too far off from that � to persecution that we once wished we could bury. In the course of human ‘progress’ it has been necessary to discard the irrelevant. Singapore risks being left behind in the dustbin of history if it does not realise � and quickly, too � that rejection of any group of people on little logical background is a poor way for a society to go. This policy should have been practised long ago. One can only hope that we have not lost too much from the people whom we rejected in the past.

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