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22 Mar 2007

the truly abhorrent thing

Should a recently circulated church statement, which called homosexuality "sinful, abhorrent and deviant" and for the criminalisation of lesbian sex, cause LGBTs to lose sleep? Fridae columnist and gay activist Alex Au weighs in on the issue.

(This column is in response to a statement issued by National Council of Churches of Singapore which commended the government on its stance on anti-gay legislation and called for the criminalisation of lesbian sex. Click here to read. )

A week ago, the Methodist Church in Singapore circulated a statement calling homosexuality "sinful, abhorrent and deviant." More specifically, the statement, which had been issued earlier by the National Council of Churches in Singapore (NCCS), expressed support for, inter alia, the government's proposal to retain Section 377A of the Penal Code, which makes "gross indecency" between two men a criminal offence.

Pictured above: Wesley Methodist Church is the first and largest Methodist church in Singapore.
In marked contrast to this bid to retain Section 377A, the government also proposed to repeal Section 377 which makes "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" another offence (regardless of sex). The effect of this selective repeal of one law and the retention of the other would be to legalise anal and oral sex for heterosexuals while keeping the same criminal for gay men.

The Penal Code had never had any law specific to lesbian sex.

The NCCS statement had nothing significant to say about the legalisation of sodomy for heterosexuals even though for a long time this too was included within the scope of "unnatural sex" they had railed against. Instead, the statement narrowed the focus to gay people, and then, in a call for consistency, urged the government to criminalise "lesbianism" to the same degree as male homosexuality.

The gutlessness in not taking on the government and the heterosexual majority over the legalisation of sodomy for the latter is striking. Perhaps the NCCS knew that despite putting up the proposed changes for public feedback, the government had essentially made up its mind. No use trying to move the immoveable?

In that case, is the call to criminalise lesbian sex just so much posturing? Should we just laugh it off?

Secular government
Indeed, in many ways, the Singapore government is very watchful of its secular credentials. It pro-actively ensures that faith groups do not venture into politics, achieving this by various legal and institutional means (e.g. religious groups have to be registered under the law), together with the occasional behind-the-scenes warning to vocal clerics.

Yet many LGBTs in Singapore felt that the NCCS statement should not be taken lightly. That's because those who have been watching how Singapore really operates knows that while religious groups may not have much leverage over the government, the government is not loath to use religious groups for its own ends.

As it is, the Singapore government is far from gay-friendly. The fact that they would repeal anal and oral sex for heterosexuals while keeping it illegal for gay men - and not even be embarrassed by such blatant discrimination - proves it.

Heretofore, they have justified this state of affairs - and the censorship that supports it - by the claim that "the majority is conservative." Over the years, they have not produced much evidence for this, except for a finding from the 2001 Social Attitudes Survey. In that study conducted by the government, 85 percent of Singaporeans said homosexuality was "unacceptable." Of those aged 15 - 29, a somewhat lower percentage (71 percent) too found it "unacceptable."

However, more recent data have begun to challenge those results. For example, the Singapore Polytechnic last year surveyed 800 Singaporeans aged 15 - 29 with exactly the same question as the government's 2001 survey, and found that only 42 percent considered homosexuality "unacceptable." Clearly, there has been a marked change in the same age band's opinion in just six years.

This is where a statement from the NCCS is useful to the ministers and the bureaucrats. It refreshes their basis for claiming that Singaporeans are against liberalisation.

But why is a government that by policy is proud of its secular credentials, so unabashedly biased against GLBTs?

In a large way, it is not. Being anti-gay is not high up there among the government's priorities. What is high up there are its authoritarian instincts, which tend to privilege stability and conformity over experimentation and diversity. On social issues, the status quo is automatically preferred over change. Controversy is to be avoided because authority is harder to impose in such conditions. Thus on the gay issue, there is a resistance to change simply because change is seen as destabilising.

Yet Singapore is among the fastest-movers when it comes to economic restructuring. This is how the city-state keeps ahead of challenges. Economic restructuring, however, is painful, more so than ever in this age of globalisation. Lots of people resent the uncertainties and anxieties that result. There is more than a whiff of suspicion that the Singapore government tries to mitigate unrest against its economic policies, but offering a sop in the form of social conservatism.

Nonetheless, that the government and bureaucracy are prone to homophobia is well known, going by the numerous petty examples of censorship and denials of permits on flimsy grounds. Partly, it is due to the disproportionate representation of Christians in government and the civil service. Some of these individuals - though surely not all -- are already homophobic due to their religious upbringing and affiliation, and they tend to assume that the rest of Singapore must be like them. That is why statements like what the NCCS issued are significant, serving to reinforce their pre-existing bias.

Contesting the statement
There is no need to get into a debate about scripture. However, it can and should be pointed out that that there are plenty of Christians who would disagree with the line taken by the NCCS.

In the first place, not all churches belong to the NCCS. The Singapore archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, does not, though that church is no less homophobic. But even those churches that are in the NCCS, e.g. the Anglican and the Methodist Churches in Singapore, would find their stance contested by Anglican and Methodist churches in other countries. That the local bishops' positions are hardly the last word on the matter is worth bringing to the public's attention.

The other thing worth pointing out is that Christians form a small minority in Singapore, at most 20 percent of the population. To this, the churchmen tend to respond by saying, "All major religions abhor homosexuality" - a stock phrase that comes from the fundamentalist churches of America. This is patently untrue. Buddhism and Taoism (about 50 percent of Singaporeans) have nothing to say on the subject. Nor does Hinduism, I am told, if one removes the Victorian prudishness that has blanketed it. Not least, let's not forget that there are atheists and free thinkers among us.

What this leads to is the charge that church leaders are expecting the government to impose Christian ideas of morality on non-Christians through law. This is the truly abhorrent idea. It is abhorrent to a secular state that promises freedom of religious belief and practice to its citizens to allow any religious group to dictate the laws of the land. That is why the NCCS statement must be resisted.

Alex Au has been a gay activist for over 10 years and is the co-founder of gay advocacy group People Like Us. Alex is also the author of the well-known Yawning Bread web site.

Reader's Comments

1. 2007-03-22 22:38  
meanwhile, a couple of years ago, the methodist church in the UK declared it would allow gay partnerships to be lessed in their churches. Let not these reactionaries, most conservative of the conservatives, fool anyone that they speak for all Christians let alone all faiths / beliefs, when they allign themselves with the fundamentalists. Underneath lie bigots who will use any veichle to espouse their views.
2. 2007-03-22 23:23  
The problem with Asians adopting what were essentially Western religions is that some of the converted tend to go to extremes. It's almost as if they wanted to prove that, Asians as they might be, they're equally god-fearing (if not more so) than the originators of these religions. Hence, while some religious bodies in the West have started opening up to gay people, some of our Christian/Catholic citizens remained rooted in the Middle Ages. The government needs to remind these people that their worships and beliefs should stay in their churches, and not express their religious ideas in secular public spaces.
3. 2007-03-22 23:48  
What do you expect, churches that support gay and lesbians and anal sex? Stop over-reacting whenever someone says something awful about gays and lesbos..., not worth the arguments because people have different value systems. We don't have to get caught up in the vicious cycle of hate. Let us love them with our gay pride.
4. 2007-03-22 23:50  
The christian church (all denominations) seems obsessed with sex these days, no? RELIGION is way off-base...so far and separated from the truth....a bunch of mis-guided busy-bodies focusing on and spreading negative energy into the universe....may god bless 'em, and show them the light.
5. 2007-03-23 00:33  
The gov. said it is trying to keep a balance between the competing interests and maintain a harmonious society, and I believe that is genuinely and understandably what they are trying to do.

However, the fact that the balance has been struck at a place way over the other side of the equation surely suggests that somehow some religious groups manage to make themselves heard more than the moderate or indifferent majority.
6. 2007-03-23 01:00  
I don't agree with what cijiang is saying. While we can't expect NCCS to come out saying it supports homosexuality (but there are churches out there that do), we cannot take blatantly discriminatory and unloving statements like the NCCS's as if it were nothing. Doing nothing and offering no resistance would only suggest to the NCCS that we agree with them and encourage them to put out more statements like this.
Comment #7 was deleted by its author
8. 2007-03-23 01:25  
This Alex Au is always swimming against the flow of things. I don't mind if he gets his feather flustered, by why share the negativity?

He is good at spreading Negativity, this disease. He influences the general public to be unhappy about something that is generally blown out of proportion.

He seems to be swinging his sword in the night, fighting demons far away and obviously trying to rile up the public to go for broke in a war that he can't win.

You know what happen to people like these in the long run? Look at 'Long Hair' of HK.... bitter, aged and not winning the war at all.

Does being gay means always having to stir up a storm in a teacup?
9. 2007-03-23 02:25  
What's wrong with adults having consenting sex behind their doors of privacy whatever style it maybe including anal sex ? If they're cheating on their spouses let their spouses deal with their internal matters, they may forgive and reconcile or asking for divorce/separation. It's not a state, church or others to meddle.

If a gay abuses or rapes another man against his will or having sex minor then it should be a crime.
And state should enforce the laws to protect the innocents.

It's very disgraceful for an advanced Asian nation like Singapore to adopt a "Sharia" based law including those of Christianity.

Separation of religions and state is a must if Singapore want to advance into modern civilized global society.

Beating on women, persecution on minorities including LGBT, unfair polygamy marriages, burning and killing of other faith believers and places of worship are commited and justified under certain religious laws.

These kinds of barbarity and ignorance must be condemned by all.

Stop preaching about moral and having hollier than thou attitudes toward others.
I respect ones' right to preach about their subjective outdated values and stick with them but please don't enforce those values on my rights.

Thanks !

Comment #10 was deleted by its author
11. 2007-03-23 06:34  
I'm hoping that one day, in the future probably in the year 2015, Singapore government will repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code & they'll also allow Nation & Snowball to be held in Singapore.

At the present time, under don't ask don't tell policy, we need more gay pride celebrations, more gay circuit parties, & more gay movies in Asia.
12. 2007-03-23 07:07  
The Law and Religion should not be confused. If the government wants to openly discriminate against members of its own community while the world stands watching there is little anyone can do about it. If it does so on religious grounds then it makes a mockery of the very law it is responsible for. Both options are bad options but its clear that the Government is not going to change its view as long as it wrongly believes what its doing is in the best interest for the majority of its people.
13. 2007-03-23 13:36  
Well, some Christians do quote:

"A man should not lie with another, the way a man lies with a woman" as it is "unnatural"...

But then, repealing sodomy laws for heterosexuals allows "A man to lie with a woman, in the way he'd lie with a man".

If the right-wing heterosexual agenda pushers want to have their pie and eat it, let's also punish unfaithful adulterous heterosexual couples with stoning to death.

While we're at it, let's make it "an eye for an eye"...so people don't have to carry out lawsuits after sustaining 'grievous hurt'. We'll just ask some thugs (government-licensed, of course. Can't go around being unlicensed, on pain of being fined) to do the 'eye for an eye' bit.

And let's =prohibit= working on saturdays. Don't even think about cleaning your home. Or going shopping.

Something is truly abhorrent here. And I say its called double standards.

The Law was made for man...not man made for Law. And from my POV this Mosiac Law has been depreciated and superceded by another..."Love one another as I love you"...
14. 2007-03-23 14:13  

Obviously these Christians have plenty to say,

So why don't they use their words in a more useful way. eg, speak out against, crime, poverty and war rather than something so pathetic like what Jim and Joe do in their bedroom!?

15. 2007-03-23 15:08  
Assuming that there are degrees to which people are 'religious' I think it's obvious, that the more shrill the NCCS shouts, the more they will alienate moderates of all faiths. So, my take, is to encourage the NCCS to go evermore overboard. No, thinking man, can agree with them anyway. And the more they are allowed to embarass themselves the better.
16. 2007-03-23 16:13  
When are these silly confused swo called CHRISTians going to act like CHRIST.
Thank God Metropolitan Community Church world wide leads by example. To be a CHRISTian, you must endevour to be like CHRIST, (who said nothing about, nor condemned Gays and other minorities). God didnt make you so you could be bashed and ashamed. He/She (God) made us ALL in his/her image, and to love one another.
Shane "Cuddlykoala"on here.
17. 2007-03-24 20:32  
War. Rape. Murder. Poverty. Equal rights for gays. Guess which one the Southern Baptist Convention is protesting?
18. 2007-03-24 23:37  
"DukeNukem" says that Alex Au spreads negativity. I say people like Alex are making a difference, and have the courage to stand up for our rights. They are the ones who make things difficult for the haters, make people think twice before they hurl another insult our way -- do you think people will grant you rights if they're not afraid of you? Go Alex! Stand up to the cowards and the bullies who hide behind the closet of religion!
19. 2007-03-25 03:04  
I agree with Megoville. Although I do not know the author personally, reading his articles clearly shows Alex Au is a doer. It takes alot of courage, especially in twisted Singapore, to write what he writes, and call a spade a spade, unlike empty vessels that sit back and criticise others for speaking the truth. These are benchers who most likely go thru life, like hyenas do, watching lions do all the dirty work and make a kill and then feast on the leftovers. Plenty of these all over the world. You see them in your office politics, games people play, shallow acquaintances...just name them. Scary.

True Christians are obviously excepted in this discussion as they practice Christ like approaches toward their fellow brothers and sisters. But, if one is honest and observe what most so called christians say and really do, you will recognise these false prophets genuinely believe they are saving everyone else but themselves.

In Singapore, it's kind of an elitism ego fraction to be known as a "christian". Very westernised and sophisticated and enlightened. They wouldn't be caught dead worshipping idols or following traditions. No, they are way too modern for that. It's all about image you see. All faux. :(~~

When you have a government that legalise anal and oral sex only for st8 people, an original domain of the gay people, what's left to discuss? It's like negotiating with terrorists. Some may say this equation is extreme but hey, Singapore is now a legal Sodom and Gomorrah for st8 people in SE Asia. Doubt the NCSS is losing sleep over if their "god" is sending Angels to destroy this Sin Sin Sin-filled Singapore. Plug away people.

There's seriously NOTHING ever new in BS Singapore. Everything done is for show. Every comment made is measured carefully not to offend our majority neighbours. If they were to demonstrate fairness and kindnes one day to its citizens, then perhaps, the world is truly ending. Meanwhile, enjoy the crap. Singaporeans earned it cos they voted these losers into power once again. They deserve their government!

Dildos anyone?...:P~~~
Comment #20 was deleted by its author
Comment #21 was deleted by its author
22. 2007-03-25 12:10  
Sh*t...without gay activists, there would be no "don't ask & don't tell" policy for gay people in the 21st century. You got to fight, for your right, to party in Singapore. (I'm just kidding...there are more important rights than that!)
23. 2007-03-25 13:04  
Rukes, regulations, laws.... who set them? Humans! So what rights do they have to penalise another?? I wonder... isn't the world having enough trouble already.....??
24. 2007-03-28 11:54  
Interesting round of comments....

In general, I might like to ask a question of my Singaporean PLU Brothers (as it seems Sisters were not invited to this particular party). Basically, what restricts your actions as a gay man more:

the threat of 377A being used against you by the government , or

the threat of family and/or close friends potentially rejecting you of they knew what you do behind closed doors??

Having never lived in Singapore, but visited often, I have found that while there are laws offering punishment for M2M sex, I observe many Brothers cruising the malls, the beaches, the bathrooms...and pretty much any other place where men might be hanging out. From my Western eyes, it appears the law is merely another layer on top of the societal pressures that keep many Brothers closeted and stressed. Yes, repealing 377A is the right thing to do. But, I wonder, is it the law that creates the most fear and abuse or is it the perceived societal threat?
25. 2007-03-31 18:58  
THATS a great point ! namely, "church leaders are expecting the government to impose Christian ideas of morality on non-Christians through law."

Great article.
26. 2007-03-31 19:03  
To gwm4gam4play, in Singapore the GREATEST fear is NOT the law, its "the perceived societal threat", as you say.

WHICH is WHY the ex-British laws are NOT to blame for the views and anti-gay laws in Singapore (and other countries). It's SOCIETY that has these views REGARDLESS of law.
27. 2007-04-05 15:28  
I just hope ALL lesbian methodist church goers will have the dignity to walk out of your churches soon. There should be churches that preach better love of mankind that this! Can't imagine how you cannot feel the slap on your own faces while you sit within with your congregation who is calling you, "sinful, abhorrent and deviant"!

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