(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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
"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"...
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!?
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.
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!
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?
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.
Please log in to use this feature.