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10 Mar 2004

family values, gay marriage and sexist stereotypes

Are heterosexuals who vehemently oppose gay marriages hypocrites? Paul Tan articulates the argument.

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The next few articles in this column will be dealing with the gay marriage debate, starting, in some ways, from the back. In other words, one may expect that in countries like Singapore where homosexual conduct is still illegal, that the focus should be on urging those reforms. While that is true in any civil rights evolution (starting small), the intellectual challenge comes when supposedly private acts (for example, purely sexual relations between same-sex couples) enters the public domain. This, in essence, is the unarticulated bottom-line argument of opponents of gay marriage. The claim that same-sex marriages is an assault on the traditional definition of marriage deserves more consideration than the pithy arguments put forward against 'unnatural' private sex acts precisely because marriage, as a civil institution, is both private and public.

The first part in this series begins with a simple point: hypocrisy. Opposition to gay marriage is riddled with hypocrisy, the most sinful of which - I think - is that such criticism ultimately rests on sexist stereotypes. That is, the only reason why heterosexuals would vehemently oppose homosexual marriages is because they think there is something inherently different in the roles that men and women play such that pairing two men or two women would harm that careful balance. The following articles will deal with judicial activism, the socialising effects of denying gays marriage, a call for a more rigorous interpretation of the equal protection and due process rights in Singapore, and a proposal that the right to conscientious belief underlie our interpretation of our Bill of Rights.

At a funeral in Singapore. Waiting for the prayers to start.

Mrs Chua: Hi, my name is Doreen. And you are…

Kevin: Kevin

Mrs Chua: Kevin. This is my husband. John, say hi to Kevin.

Mr Chua: Hi. I see you're with a friend?

Kevin: Yes, this is Jaime. He's my… uh… boyfriend.

Jaime: (grabs Kevin's hand) We're getting married. Like the two of you.

Mrs Chua: Oh. Well, there's a surprise.

Jaime: Is it?

Kevin: Come on, Jaime. This is not the -

Mrs Chua: I didn't know you could -

Jaime: In Toronto.

Mrs Chua: (uneasily) Call me old-fashioned, but I think a marriage is between a man and woman. God intended it to be -

Mr Chua: God also intended women to be obedient and you're the CEO of your company. And, you know as well as I do that civil marriage and church weddings are totally different than--

Mrs Chua: You know, John, just because you don't believe in some things, doesn't mean you don't believe in -

Mr Chua: What? Tradition?

Mrs Chua: For starters.

Mr Chua: Well, I think it's great gays are getting married. Marriage sure as hell needs to get rid of its tradition of sexism.

Mrs Chua: It's not -
Mr Chua: Really? Surely the only reason marriage is seen as between a man and a woman is because of the gender roles they fulfill. Because man, and woe-man, satisfy distinct roles that a man and another man, or a woman and another woman cannot fulfill.

Jaime: Exactly. Instead of censoring Manazine as being "too homosexual", how about censoring all the other magazines that are too sexist?

Kevin: Look, this is quite unnecessary. Jaime and I just want do to our own thing. We don't need a huge debate. Not now.

Jaime: If not now, when, Kevin? If we were always waiting for the right time, the right place…

Mrs Chua: What about children?

Mr Chua: Huh?

Mrs Chua: Why marriage should be between man and woman. For procreational reasons.

Mr Chua: But impotent couples get married, don't they? And they don't ask you to fill out a form before you get married to see if you intend to have children.

Jamie: Singles are also allowed to have children outside marriage. And, they are allowed to adopt. And, gay couples can already adopt in some countries at least. So it's not true that only a male-female couple can take care of… those… bundles of… err… (makes a face).

Kevin: Jaime doesn't like kids.

Jamie: And I think the number of screwed up kids raised in violent and broken families show that heterosexual couples aren't necessarily the best means of raising a family.

Mrs Chua: (ignoring Jaime and Kevin) But, John, for centuries -

Mr Chua: You know, I read that marriage started out as marriage by force or capture, and then marriage by purchase. It was only later that it became marriage by mutual love.

Kevin: By force?

Mr Chua: Yes. Marriage by force or capture goes back to primitive culture when tribal groups were routinely hostile to each other. At that time marriages were "consummated" as the groom captured a desirable woman in the process of conquering and pillaging a rival tribe.

Jaime: (looking at Mrs Chua) Aa-nnnn-d… once women said "I do" they became the property of their husband. Husbands could beat their wives, and it was legal. That's tradition for you if you want to follow it blindly.

Mrs Chua: But what about, you know, if this happens… it will open the way for other things? Like polygamy -

Mr Chua: My dear, they opened that door when they legalised interracial marriage -

Mrs Chua: If you marry whoever you wanted -

Jaime: (sarcastically) Imagine that! Marrying who you want is a crime! Let's return to arranged marriages.

Kevin: (meekly) Didn't we have that law where graduates couldn't marry undergraduates? Or were discouraged to?

Mr Chua: Oh, oh, don't they still have that? Somewhat? Like graduates are taken care of by the SDU [a government run matchmaking agency for university graduates] and non-grads are under some who-knows-what unit?
Jaime: I think the fact that straight people can already marry who they want… I mean, the government doesn't say you can't marry rich, poor, healthy, with handicaps, ugly, handsome… So why does sex matter?

Mrs Chua: Because -

Jaime: (pretending to be interested) Because?

Mrs Chua: (pause) The family unit has always been -

Mr Chua: Doreen, if the state were really interested in the family unit, it should be encouraging homosexuals to marry. I mean, if anything is going to help society be stable, it's getting those promiscuous, circuit party, AIDS-wrecked homosexuals -

Jaime: Hey -

Mr Chua: (smiling cheekily) - married.

Jaime: You could also make adultery illegal, as they do in Nigeria. You could try and stop the domestic abuse that happens every two hours -

Kevin: Two hours? In Singapore?

Jaime: (nodding)

Mrs Chua: Democracy -

Mr Chua: Assumes equality. I mean, don't you think it's a tad hypocritical when everyone complains about COEs and GST hikes and the government says that we can't rule by public polls. But when it comes to civil liberties, democracy becomes an excuse not to do anything?

Mrs Chua: (irritated) You know, there are some things you just know are right.

Jaime: (ironically) Yes. Indeed.

Mrs Chua: (protesting) I'm not against gays, you know. Just against marriage.

Jaime: It's the same thing! It's like saying you like hamburgers without the patty. By the time you take out sex, marriage, kids and sperm donations - because we're some kind of a disease like cystic fibrosis… Look, Doreen, I don't mind if you can't understand us. What's frustrating are all these excuses which are really quite -

Mrs Chua: (turning away) The prayers are starting.

Mr Chua: (muttering) I gave that up two years ago. (leans toward Kevin and Jaime) Look, guys. Good luck, ok? One day, history will prove you right. And it will prove (pointing to Mrs Chua) her wrong. (smiles warmly.)

Jaime: (softly, slightly taken aback.) Thanks. Thank you. (looks briefly toward Kevin, smiling.)

Mrs Chua: (suddenly. eyeballing Kevin) By the way, how are you related to my father?

Kevin: Your… your… father?

Mrs Chua: (suspiciously) Yes. My father.

Kevin: (clearly uncomfortable) I… My… He's… So…. You….

Stranger: (to Kevin) Kevin.

Kevin: Oh, hi, mum. This is -

Stranger: (dryly) I see you've met your grandfather's non-illegitimate daughter.

Mrs Chua: Aren't you just a -

Stranger: A friend? Funny how the world turns, isn't it?

Mrs Chua: …

Priest: Ladies and gentlemen, could you please take your seats.

All exiting.

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