We can repeal 377A while still respecting religion

I did not intend to write about Section 377A. It appears to be such an obvious case of discrimination that there is nothing else to add; some people are gay, some people are religious, and the right of the former to live as they please has no bearing on the right of the latter to live out their faith.

Then Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh penned an opinion-editorial in the Straits Times. His argument: The fact that something is a religious sin has no bearing on whether it should be considered a crime in a secular state.

This is correct. “My God says I cannot do this” is a perfectly reasonable statement of faith. “My God says you cannot do this” is religious overreach. But many seem to disagree. And the purpose of this article is to respond to that precise sentiment.

Religion in the public space, not public law

Religious individuals are correct to point out that there is a moral component to all laws. Murder is illegal because, clearly, someone is killed against their will. But why is this bad? The secular justification points to the harm and subsequent loss of utility or the violation of someone’s right to live. The religious justification points to the simple fact that God has willed this to be wrong.

Someone who is religious might say, “Hey, hold on. Why is your ‘false religion’ of secular philosophy any more correct than my one true God? Can’t we come to a compromise here?”

Yes, we can. But the compromise cannot be some messy pastiche of non-religious and religious morality. It makes no sense for the Government to then say, “Sure thing. Why not we criminalise the act of gay sex so the Abrahamic faiths are represented, but then we allow abortion and adultery so that the secular community doesn’t get too angry.”

That is a self-evidently stupid principle upon which to build a system of laws because there is no guiding principle to favour one ‘compromise’ over another. Why not, then, criminalise abortion but allow gay sex and adultery? Or outlaw pornography and adultery but allow abortion and gay sex? In fact, the only justification for the ‘compromise’ of keeping 377A is status quo bias: there is no good positive reason for why this status quo is better than any other compromise.

A better principle to build a system of laws is that of majority rule, minority rights. The majority gets to express preferences over policy trade-offs (e.g. socialized medicine balanced against the individual’s right to choose) but not over the tyranny of specific groups (e.g. I cannot vote to deny medical treatment to transgender or HIV-positive people on the basis of my faith).

This is also a compromise. But, unlike 377A, there is a strong positive reason for this compromise, because all groups are either minorities or could potentially become a minority. In the same way that our gay friends should be free to live as they please, our Christian and Muslim friends should also be free to worship as they please: We would never “criminalise Islam but not prosecute people for being Muslim” because that is also self-evidently stupid.

The ‘slippery slope’ slopes in both directions

The religious individual might then say in response, “But your ‘false religion’ of majority rule, minority rights does not define minorities! Paedophiles and people who are into bestiality are minorities too.”

This is a bad argument because, very simply, children and animals are also vulnerable groups who deserve to be protected. And given that neither children nor animals can consent to be violated, the principle of majority rule, minority rights does not extend to paedophilia or bestiality.

But I have a bigger problem with this ‘slippery slope’ argument. Those who say that repealing 377A leads us down a slippery slope of immorality perhaps conceive of the ‘slope’ like this:

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Ignoring that many of the outcomes on this ‘slippery slope’ are not in themselves a problem (e.g. it’s fine to legalise gay marriage so long as we do not force priests and imams to sanctify those weddings), this is what I call a symmetric argument: it applies equally to the other side of the slope as well. So actually what we have is not a slippery slope; it is a ‘slippery cliff’:

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“That’s ridiculous!” a reasonable religious person might sputter. “We would never stand for that.” And – to be clear – I agree. I am not saying that the majority of moderate religious individuals in Singapore want MOE teachers to teach creationism instead of evolution, or transform us into ultra-conservative Russia.

What I am saying, though, is that this exercise in symmetry reveals our cognitive biases about the other side. If you believe, genuinely in your heart of hearts, that keeping 377A does not then lead to a religious theocracy, then why would repealing 377A necessarily lead to Sodom and Gomorrah and the anti-Christ’s return?

The Future

So, to borrow from the popular meme, what is the future that liberals want? Most liberals want the protection of minority and vulnerable groups, no matter their political identity. This includes, but is not limited to:

Constitutional protections when it comes to freedom of religion

The freedom to proselytize and spread one’s faith

The right of gay individuals to live and love as they please, without being branded criminals

The ability for the LGBT community to engage in civil unions or marriage, without forcing religious leaders to sanctify these marriages – the most important thing here is to have the legal benefits that come from marriage; not a subversion of the “sanctity” of marriage.

But at the same time, any discussion about the future is nonsensical when right now; we’re looking at whether or not to repeal a Victorian-era law which criminalises gay sex. To talk about issues of gay marriage or polygamy – which are just, factually, not on the legislative agenda right now – when we’re evaluating 377A is like looking at the Merdeka Generation healthcare package and going, “Yeah, but what if this leads to socialized medicine, and then all of a sudden we become like Cuba and then Venezuela and then die liao lor”. It just does not make sense.

Remember, liberals do not want to “turn the world topsy-turvy”. The world has always been topsy-turvy – men and women dressed in suits trade fancy things named ‘collateralised debt obligations’ and then get paid millions; we fly in giant winged metal birds called ‘aeroplanes’  and sometimes travel far enough to travel back (or forwards) in time; Singapore poured tonnes of concrete into the sea to create land where there once was none, and then built artificial trees made of twisted steel and dubbed them ‘Supertrees’.

Look, very little of the world we live in makes sense. And honestly, given the crazy world we live in, affording peace of mind to men whose only crime is to love other men; assuring them that you are not criminals; that you deserve to be treated as equal citizens just like anyone else – that’s not crazy at all.

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12 Replies to “We can repeal 377A while still respecting religion”

  1. It’s worth remembering that in Singapore even if someone has a marriage ceremony or celebration in a church that is different to the actual marriage solemnization process because the actual marriage is only legally recognised under the terms of secular marriage law and that solemnization process. The same law applies to all religions, or those without religion, except of course those under Muslim marriage law. It is therefore worth remembering that no one religion under the terms of this secular law can force onto others what they think a marriage is. Therefore there is no religious reason that can stop the secular marriage law being updated to include same sex couples.

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      1. I’m Singaporean. Clerics can be, but they operate under the terms of the secular legal process. There isn’t a separate Christian only marriage law in Singapore.

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  2. This article begins by mischaracterizing the religious position.

    It is already “secular philosophy” – false or otherwise – to say that the Abrahamic religious position is “My God says I cannot do this”. The correct position is “God says we cannot do this”. That is because Abrahamaic religions believe that there is One God over all of humanity.

    And that is the principle at work, whichever the mode of compromise. Keeping 377A is a blunt way, but still a way of keeping that position at its transcendental level, and avoiding the intellectual ghettoisation that is the result of the relativist position taken by the Article.

    Next, the Article claims that gays should be free to live as they please, and religious people ought to be free to worship as they please. This statement is problematic in two places. “live as they please” is an extremely wide berth, far wider than “free to worship”. Are we implying that gay people should have the right to “cruise” on religious people’s graves but religious people have no right to argue that same-sex marriage is immoral? What the Article here has succumbed to is the stereotype that all every gay – or other member of the rainbow coalition – wants is to be able to do it privately in their bedrooms. But the statement itself protects equally the minority of the minority that want to build gay saunas in the middle of a HDB estate or market (gay) porn to school students etc. On the other hand, the Article has also reduced religion to prayers in religious buildings.

    Religion, however, distinguishes between the sacral or ceremonial spaces, and the secular spaces; that is the distinction is made in terms of the function of the space; this is vastly different from the ideological definition this Article gives.

    And that leads to the biggest problem of the article: the slippery slope that the Article claims religious people perceive.

    The slippery slope is instead more like this: Repealing 377A, Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage, Forcing all bathrooms to become unisex, suing/sacking/jailing people who are uncomfortable with letting same-sex couples stay in their houses, jailing parents who disagree with queer philosophy, forcing public officials to stop using “he” and “she” in conversations because some people might not “identify” that way, Forcing religious charities to hand over children to gay couples. The argument against speculation is no longer valid, because all these have already happened in various “first world” countries, like the USA, the UK, Canada and Sweden.

    Likewise, the religious person might also mention to the Article Writer that what the Article writer says is bad in the religious “slippery slope” might actually be good. Banning abortion saves lives and might improve our flailing birth rate by legal necessity. Teaching creationism – all variants – opens students’ minds to other perspectives, which is a boon if we want to train students in critical thinking, and stresses that Evolution is a Theory, not a Scientific Law, something which people like the Article’s author have forgotten.

    Incidentally, just what is wrong with conservative Russia? Is a comparison with Kelantan even accurate? Or is it based on propaganda from CNN?

    Gay marriage and polygamy (and unisex bathrooms) are not issues on the legislative agenda, but they are issues on the agenda of LGBT(…) groups. In any case, as demonstrated by USA, Canada and India, LGBT(…) groups tend to force their issue onto Judicial agendas, not Legislative agendas.

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      1. All your other statements, like the gay porn comment, are untrue rubbish. You should be ashamed at promoting such obvious obnoxious unfounded filth.

        There is nothing wrong about encouraging gay people to marry. It helps bring them into society and benefits society.

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      2. Martin,

        No, my statements are something you deny, but they are reality.

        I am merely pointing out that the argument can also be used by the minority in the minority. You are really sure that no such minority exists? You have wrongly assumed that I made any generalization about ALL LGBT(…) people. I didn’t.

        The point is not about gay marriage. It is that the argument for gay marriage can be used to justify all these other things, by simple substitution.

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    1. Hi Martin,

      I guess I should be used to that by now, but you have misconstrued my comment yet again.

      I am pointing out where the religious people who oppose the repeal of S377A come from. And if you realize, all my examples are very practical consequences, not theological or “moral purity” ones. Is jailing people or policing language solely “religious in nature”?

      What it seems is that you are stuck in a way of thinking, and suffer from an acute case of confirmation bias.

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      1. Your comments are not reality, they are untrue comments about LGBT people without any proof from any reliable sources. Your “reality” is actually scaremongering from sources that are paid for by religious groups in the United states. You’ll find those sources on this list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_organizations_designated_by_the_Southern_Poverty_Law_Center_as_anti-LGBT_hate_groups

        Your examples are not “practical consequence” either because they are not based in reality.

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  3. You incorrectly state what a scientific theory is because you have incorrectly conflated the layman common language “theory”.
    A scientific theory is “an explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can be repeatedly tested and verified in accordance with scientific method, using accepted protocols of observation, measurement, and evaluation of results”.

    Note: repeatedly tested and verified

    It is not a “theory” in the sense that you meant it when you incorrectly wrote “that Evolution is a Theory, not a Scientific Law”. Teaching “creationism” would not help teach critical thinking because “creationism” is devoid of critical thinking, it is belief and faith based.

    Another example of a wrong claim from you is “forcing all bathrooms to become unisex” which doesn’t happen. You also seem to be entirely unaware that in Singapore we already have unisex bathrooms, sometimes due to space constraints, sometimes for disabled users. You also seem to be unaware that fully transitioned transgender people can marry in Singapore and they are already using the bathroom they feel comfortable using.

    All your claims are of a similar ilk. Honestly, please do try actually thinking and writing accurately instead of repeating incorrect rubbish from sites listed as hate groups.

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  4. Religious people have every right to make factual rational arguments in public. As detailed above, your comments are not factual or rational.

    Religious people however have no right to keep on making factually incorrect arguments that are designed to disparage LGBT people and using “it’s my religion” as a shield for discriminatory comments.

    Using “it’s my religion” as a shield should not be allowed, like when anti-Islamic comments were made by a foreign Christian preacher, or when an imam who made controversial remarks against Christians and Jews.

    Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/cornerstone-church-pastor-apologises-over-lou-engle-statement-10104680
    https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/cornerstone-church-pastor-apologises-over-lou-engle-statement-10104680
    https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/imam-who-made-offensive-remarks-be-repatriated-stern-warnings-two-others-mha

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