It’s that time again, sigh, my comments in the square brackets and red.
When Mathew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming in 1998, I was 17. I got the news from a close friend who had recently relocated to the US to pursue her education. She was in the process of coming out and wept over the phone, after having attended a candlelight vigil her school had held.
The crime affected me deeply. Shepard, 21, was killed because he was gay. He was driven to a deserted field by two men, tied to a fence, and beaten unconscious with a handgun. When he was spotted the next day by a passerby, he was still unconscious – so badly beaten that he was initially mistaken for a scarecrow. His injuries were too serious to be operated on. He died in hospital.
The violence of the crime shook me with a ferocity that I have never quite forgotten. Shepard and I had been almost the same age at the time. And while I’d never hidden the fact that I was gay, the urgent realisation that such hatred for queer people exists, is what pushed me, unequivocally, out of the closet for good. The image of Shepard that I stared at online for hours remains embedded in my memory today; it reminds of why I must exist, visibly, as a queer person: because there are simply too many of us who can’t.
[I’m not sure what exactly is the point of bringing up this story. The law does not concern itself with the substantive motives for killing people, killing people is a crime regardless of the motives of the criminal, be it due to hatred of homosexuals, hatred of one’s race, vigilante justice, or if the murderer simply doesn’t like your face. One of the few justified motives for killing is self-defense, but presumably I don’t think the author means to mention this case simply to make a point that killing is a crime outside of the narrow permission of self-defense. Nor do I think the author’s point is simply to argue that hatred, any kind of hatred, is not a good justification for killing anyone. The fact that the victim involved is gay and the motive is hatred against gays is irrelevant to the criminality of the murder. If the victim was a suspect of a murder or a rape and was lynched by a group of men, the lynching would still be a crime and still illegal, for no one may take the law into their own hands nor execute anyone outside of the due process of the law, if the victim was living in a polygamous relationship and killed for that reason, it would still be a crime and still illegal, if the victim had an ugly face and was killed for that reason, it would also still be a crime and still illegal.
The point is either so general as to become trivial, that is, killing for any motive whatsoever outside of self-defense is a crime and is therefore illegal, or it becomes so specific that it is evidently false, that is, we should legalise all of the practices of the victim for which he or she was killed and should never persecute them. If a murder or rape suspect was lynched by a mob, it does not follow therefore that we should never persecute any future murder or rape suspect in a court of law, if a bigamy or incestuous couple was lynched by a mob, it does not follow therefore we should decriminise bigamy or legalise incest. Being a victim of a crime does not by default turn one into a martyr, nor does it somehow entail legal privileges for their practices. A law must be judged on it’s own merits and not simply because someone who has trespassed that law happens to be a victim of a crime. This story is at best merely a distraction, at worse a red herring.]
Tonight’s judgment upholding 377A has not just made me angry; it has literally and justifiably, distressed me. I am distressed about what this judgment says about our courts, about what it implies for my friends who are gay and male, about what it says about this country and about how it affects my relationship to my country-of-birth.
[Every law would by definition affect someone’s relationship with the country by virtue of the fact that every law is universally applicable to all who are subject to the law, if a law did not affect anyone it would be a rather pointless law which no one should bother to legislate. The fact that the law affects the author is purely a subjective fact which does not say anything about the objective form or justification for the legal judgement.]
The lead-up to this court case was nothing new: religious leaders encroaching upon secular society, political leaders hurting their behinds on fences, slippery-slope arguments pivoting the fate of an entire nation’s moral fabric upon whether or not the sex lives of homosexual men continue to remain criminalized – a claim so baseless that it would be laughable if the inanity of its constant regurgitation was not so mind-numbing. Oh, and let’s not forget the 377A-suporters who petitioned the government to invest taxpayer money into“conducting a comprehensive study into the ill-effects of promoting homosexuality in culture”. Er. Right. Because honest socio-cultural inquiry involves conducting a “comprehensive study” based on conclusions one has already come to.
[It is important to note first that we are not a secular society. The “Declaration of Religious Harmony” proposed by our former Prime Minister Goh Cheok Tong on October 2002 and issued in 2003 after 6 months of debate does not state that we are a secular society, it merely states that,
We shall always
Recognise the secular nature of our State,
Promote cohesion within our society…
A secular state is not the same as a secular society, unless we wish to collapse society into the state, which would be a creepy form of totalitarianism. This is a significant point to remember as in the course of the debate, it was precisely one of the suggestions that we adopt “secular nature of our society” which was rejected and replaced instead with the secular nature of the state. Furthermore, the term “secular” does not by itself preclude the religious. The word “secular” comes from the latin word saecularis which simply means “temporal, worldly, the age”, etc, as opposed to eternal, transcendent, etc. While some religion of course does concern itself with eternal matters transcending the concerns of this world, it does not thereby have nothing to do with temporal matters or the concerns of this world, therefore the secular does not by itself exclude the religious, unless of course one wants to say that the religious should not concern itself with any temporal or worldly matters at all. And besides, this invocation of religion is a red herring, as there exists excellent non-theological reasons for publicly discouraging homosexuality and enforcing the normativity of heterosexual marriage which can be read here, and serves nothing more than to condemn an argument by association.
If the other claims are “so baseless that it would be laughable”, then the author should have no problems refuting it at all. Unfortunately, the fact that a claim is laughable is not the same as it being refutable for the capacity to laugh at something denotes merely a subjective capacity and says nothing about the objective validity of an argument, for laughter is not a very good indicator of truth or falsity. But I suppose when one privileges the righteousness of one’s cause over making logical and rational determination of whether the cause be true and justified in the first place, one is not particularly choosy about the method of one’s argumentation even if it should involve a fallacy. Of course one can claim that the arguments against one’s position is “baseless”, but to claim this is not the same as to prove it, just as the other side would equally claim that the arguments for one’s position is equally “baseless” as well. It is simply begging the question to outright assume that one’s claim is justified and the opponent’s claim is not, of course the author would believe that the opponent’s claim is not justified and baseless, if the author did believe the opponent’s claim was justified, the author would simply give up her position! The broader point simply being that when an issue is still in a state of discussion and debate, one cannot simply assume that the issue has already been decided in favour of one’s side and that the other side has been completely refuted which would simply be circular. The fact that it is “baseless” is what has yet to be demonstrated conclusively, not simply assumed. It is not like we are discussing the validity of Newtonian physics which has been established upon certain scientific evidence, the humanities are a messy place and one should not expect mathematical certainty in such fields. As for the “slippery slope” case, she might want to try to answer these locals advocating polygamy as well as addressing the arguments of this US liberal paper advocating the same.)
Although I can’t help being skeptical of the viability of such a rigorous discourse when already the author doesn’t seem to understand the propositions which she is supposed to critique. There is a difference between a “comprehensive study into the ill-effects of promoting homosexuality in culture” and “comprehensive study into whether promoting homosexuality does have ill-effects“. The former proposition is not the same as the latter, the former is about determining what exactly are the ill-effects and not whether there are ill-effects, thus, the fact that promoting homosexuality does have an ill-effect is not the conclusion of the study but the premise of the study, the study’s conclusion would be the particular and individual ill-effects identified, not whether or not there are ill-effects in the first place. Of course one can challenge the premise of the study, but my point is simply that one can hardly conduct a logical and rational debate when one cannot even identify what are the premises and conclusion of an argument.]
If this is the level of discourse Singapore is leaning towards, then our aspirations to become a first-world nation –a nation of compassionate hearts, critical minds and progressive debate– is doomed.
[The author is truly clueless with regards to how applicable this is to the present situation…]
And if the ill-will and ignorance propagated against queer people online prior to this court case, is not reason enough to repeal 377A, I don’t know what is. The fact that a senior pastor responded to the debate with what sounded pretty much like a battle-cry, set alarm bells off in many heads: He told his church that “we must not be oblivious to our responsibility as an army to push back the powers of darkness”, that the church “must get herself into battle footing, and be battle-ready”, that “the first salvo was fired”, that “churches are beginning to mobilise themselves”, that “the war will be winnable” and that “the church will arise victorious”.
If one religious community had raised this “war-cry” against another, I am pretty sure that the law would have intervened in half the time it took him to take the incriminating evidence of his own violent imagination out of his post. But because it was a rally-cry against equal rights for homosexuals, no action has been taken and his “apology” has seemed to suffice. Double-standards, much?
[Again, the claim of “ill-will” interesting as it maybe, is simply an argumentum ad hominem, not forgetting begging the question of already assuming the righteousness of one’s cause versus the “malice” of those who oppose it. That one’s cause is righteous and those who oppose it are malicious is precisely the state of debate and has hardly been concluded. But again, as I’ve already said, when one has already decided upon the righteousness of one’s cause and is not longer concerned with rationally and logically justifying whether it is righteous in the first place, one is not particularly choosy in one’s method of argumentation.
Secondly there is a confusion in the argument of the second paragraph. I am not sure where exactly does the “Double-standards” lie. If the standard is the law, then of course since the law does prohibit inter-religious hatred, therefore the law rightly intervenes if one religious community raises the “war-cry” against another legitimate religious community. But the law currently already criminalises homosexual behaviour, so the “war-cry” raised by this religious community is technically nothing more than simply a re-affirmation of what the law already says, unless of course, one is trying to argue that religious communities should not respect the law, I’m not sure where is the double-standard exactly.]
During the Shepard case, the murderers’ lawyers claimed “gay panic” in defense of the crime, as if it was a justifiable reason to torture and murder someone. Even after they were found guilty, it took a decade of politics following Shepard’s tragic death for Wyoming to finally pass a hate crime bill pertaining to sexual orientation. Even in those final proceedings, Republican Party member Virginia Foxx, in an effort to block it, claimed that Shepard’s death being called a “hate crime” was a hoax.
Does Singapore need a similar tragedy to occur for our court to understand the importance and role of the law in relation to minority communities? Does Singapore need a similar tragedy to occur in order for us to abolish laws that actively and/or tangentially persecute specific groups of people?
[The first paragraph has already been dealt with and so I shan’t dwell with it. The second paragraph however is a very curious sort of argument. The law by definition persecutes specific groups of people, they are called criminals, and in any functional society, criminals would be in the minority and hopefully a very tiny one at that, for if the criminals were in the majority, then the law has lost all its force and meaning and we’re probably looking at a failed state or something close to anarchy where most of the citizens do not respect or obey the law.
The fact that someone is in a “minority community” does not thereby entail special entitlements and privileges nor does size of community grant one the presumption of legality and protection of the law. Presumably street gangs are a “minority community”, it does not follow that the law should not persecute them when they commit a crime and grant them special privileges. The law is no respecter of size and it is simply a form of discrimination to treat someone differently simply based upon the size of the community to which one belongs to, albeit a very strange and odd form of discrimination at that.]
If all people are not afforded equality under the law, then the law exists solely to serve the ideologies of a select few. By retaining this law on grounds that “the courts’ power to intervene can only be exercised with established principles” and that the issues in this present case “is not one which… justifies heavy-handed judicial intervention”, what the court is essentially saying is that its job encompasses waiting for tides to change before it officiates any “difficult” decisions… even if it believes in the fairness of those decisions. Is it therefore adopting the role of an administrator of the status quo rather than the role of an institution that stands for justice? If this is the case, I am not sure what the courts are there for, because from my experience, the status quo tends to take care of itself just fine.
[As has already been pointed out by the Attorney-General, 377A does not violate equality under the law. The law which does not permit gay sex does not pertain to group or people category but to the action involved. It just says that no one is allowed to have sex with a person of the same sex. This law is equally applicable to ALL persons, heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, etc. This law doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals simply because it is a law which is equally applicable to heterosexuals and bisexuals as well, those sexual orientation groups or people category fall equally under the law and would be equally persecuted. So it is hard to see where exactly does the inequality lie. But then again this is simply a category confusion as the author confuses substantive equality in some philosophical sense of justice, and consistent and equal application of the categories of the law. Just as it is not “inequality” to apply different tax rates to different income groups, neither is it inequality to apply different standards to different sexual behaviour as long as those standards and laws are consistently applied which I’ve already elaborated in some detail here.]
One of the repeated arguments reiterated by supporters of the status quo, was the idea that repealing 377A will lead to the destruction of the basic family unit and the moral fabric of society. That is where conservatives and I have someone in common: The idea of family is important to me. And I believe that anything powerful enough to destroy families or demean the moral fabric of society, needs to be dealt with. Let me give you a few examples:
I have a friend who was beaten up by his father when he came out as gay, and subsequently sent to another country. I have another who was dragged across the floor by her hair and thrown out of the house. Late last year, the media covered a story about a group of public bus-drivers in uniform hurled derogatory words at a transgendered woman for simply existing in a public space. A few months ago, the papers covered a story about a woman who was gang-raped in an effort to “correct” her sexuality.
This is what breaks up family units and destroys the moral fabric of our society; beliefs – cultural or otherwise – that demonise, stigmatise, alienate and harm fellow human beings. Not people fighting to repeal an archaic colonial statute that labels people criminals based on who they have consensual sex with. Take it from first-hand experience, if you must: When I was twelve, I was “exorcised” against my will; a seven-hour-long ordeal intended to cast “lesbian demons” out of my body. Four years later, when my mother found out I was dating a girl, she informed me that I was going to hell.
These stories are all around us. If you have not seen or heard them, then you are going out of your way to not see or hear them. And if the court is telling us that legally-induced stigma does not add to already rampant culturally-induced stigma, then it is it is practising denial, and not justice.
[Again, the point about assault and violence has already been dealt with so I shan’t repeat myself.
Of course some beliefs do demonise, stigmatise, alienate and harm fellow human beings, but then again all societies do demonise, stigmatise, alienate and harm some groups of fellow human beings, especially those who threaten the integrity of the society. I doubt few would object to the stigma which attaches to rapists or to consensual paedophiles, or incestuous couples or the harm which the law will do to them by imprisoning them. Anyway, every rule and coercive law by definition stigmatises someone, by virtue of the fact that it necessarily forbids and censures certain behaviour. Laws against paedophilia stigmatises paedophiles, laws against necrophilia stigmatises necrophiles and laws against incest stigmatises incesterous lovers, and laws against polygamy stigmatises polygamous lovers. Unless she means to argue for the abolition of all criminal laws, then the question is not whether the law will stigmatise but who.
The fact that some colonial statute is “archaic” does not follow that it is false. Statutes against killing has been around since time immemorial, it does not follow that we should abolish it. What is true and right aren’t exactly determine by its age.
It is unfortunate that the author was subjected bad theology and folk remedies in an attempt to change her “sexual orientation”, but the claim that a change in civil law will change the mindset and habits of people educated with bad theology is a rather tenuous claim at best, I am fairly certain her mother did not consult 377A before deciding to subject her to such superstitious rituals and naive theological condemnation. It does seem like an overkill to change a civil law in an attempt to correct erroneous theology. Surely the solution to bad theology is good theology and not bad civil laws.]
The trouble is that 377A is not just about criminalisation of homosexual sex. It is a symbol that says, yeah, it’s legitimate, based on sexual orientation, to deny a graduate a teaching job, to deny a teenager a role model on television, to tell someone that they are less of a legitimate human being. It is sends a message to the public, telling them that it is ok to label someone else, not of your sexual orientation a faggot, dyke, ah qua, sinner, deviant, sick because technically, they should be in jail anyway. It is a symbol that says it is legitimate for religious leaders to position satire as fact and demonise an entire community by claiming that gay men want to “sodomise your sons”. It validates and is rooted in the very same violence that drive gay teens to suicide, drives wedges between parents and children, leads to pretend marriages that end in shambles. It is a statute that effectively institutionalises inequality.
[“Legitimacy” is a rather ambiguous concept. Is she saying that the law says that it is morally legitimate to deny a graduate a teaching job, etc, or that the law says that it is legally legitimate to do all that? Morality, like justice, depends upon which system of values oneself or one’s community does adopt and it is hard to say in vacuo what is morally legitimate without reference to the particular communal context and the system of values adopted. But if legality, surely all employers and businesses has the right to decide who they want to hire or do a job and I don’t think that it isn’t really the job of the civil laws to enforce equality of employment, etc.
And strange that she should think that the law determines who are and are not legitimate human beings. I should have thought that the presumption should be that even criminals are legitimate human beings and one’s status of being a human being is not dependent upon recognition by the law. The law may criminalise murder, thief, rape, embezzlement, etc, it does not follow that therefore murderers, thieves, rapists and embezzlers are any less legitimate human beings than the rest of us who follow the law. Therefore it does not follow that simply because the law criminalises homosexual acts it follows that homosexuals are any less human beings.
Even if 377A was repealed, people would still think that it is legitimate to use those terms homosexuals anyway and simply repealling 377A by itself would not change that, unless of course one wants to enforce thought and speech crimes against homosexuals itself. But that would just be playing into the slippery slope arguments of those who advocate for the retention of 377A.
As for the law “validating” violence, 377A does not validate or endorse vigilante justice nor does it allow us to use violence against homosexuals, so I’m not sure what exactly is the point here.
As for “pretend marriages”, the marital contract’s validity or “truth” is independent of the internal motives, desires or sexual orientation of the contracting partners, as a public civil institution, it is only concerned with the public objective form, not the internal state, and as long as the social ends of marriage are served, the public institution does not care about the internal state of those who enter into the contract. For further discussion on this see here. Besides, the argument simply assumes that the proper sexual orientation is a necessary prerequisite to a marriage, a claim which needs argumentation. For a discussion on sexual orientation see here and here, ]
Dear High Court: I would like my male, gay friends to not be criminalized under my country’s “justice” system. I would like to dispense with a law that institutionalises discrimination against LGBT people in secular society. I would like the homophobia that 337A helps perpetuate to not end in me or anyone I love being bullied, beat up, called names, sexually assaulted, dismissed from their jobs. I would like to live in a country that values families, children and general humanity enough to understand that the discrimination 377A perpetuates does not sit well in a society “based on justice and equality”.
Dear High Court: I would like for all this to happen before it takes a tragedy to open our eyes to the fact that discrimination against homosexual people is not the mark of a “kinder and gentler society” and not at all a symbolic gesture of “My Singapore”.
Dear High Court: I am not prepared to wait for “democratic change” to occur at such a cost. And when it comes to justice, I am not prepared to wait at all.
I shall be told, perhaps, that Alyosha was stupid, undeveloped, had not finished his studies, and so on. That he did not finish his studies is true, but to say that he was stupid or dull would be a great injustice. I’ll simply repeat what I have said above. He entered upon this path only because, at that time, it alone struck his imagination and presented itself to him as offering an ideal means of escape for his soul from darkness to light. Add to that that he was to some extent a youth of our last epoch—that is, honest in nature, desiring the truth, seeking for it and believing in it, and seeking to serve it at once with all the strength of his soul, seeking for immediate action, and ready to sacrifice everything, life itself, for it. Though these young men unhappily fail to understand that the sacrifice of life is, in many cases, the easiest of all sacrifices, and that to sacrifice, for instance, five or six years of their seething youth to hard and tedious study, if only to multiply tenfold their powers of serving the truth and the cause they have set before them as their goal—such a sacrifice is utterly beyond the strength of many of them.
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… I would say that we Christians have to stop putting words in God’s mouth just to justify the legalization of what we feel comfortable with. I myself am grossly uncomfortable with the idea of gay sex. I am also grossly uncomfortable with the idea of being hit on by a gay man… and this seems to be a dominant underlying motivator for most Christian groups. But women have been dealing with the discomfort of unwanted male attention forever, which is perhaps why they are more accepting of homosexuals or even comfortable with being around homosexuals. We have to look deeper within ourselves to review our motivations before we act, and perhaps then we can live up to “the second most important ‘commandment'”.
If you could point out exactly which part of this post I have been “putting words in God’s mouth”, I would be much obliged for I am fairly certain that I have mentioned nothing about God or what he says, etc.
Interesting hypothesis about the motives of Christian groups and females, but I’m not sure what does that have to do with my arguments here. And you really shouldn’t project your own disgust unto other people and assume we all feel as you do. And discussions of legality have nothing to do with “accepting” people, unless you think the law is the standard of hospitality into one’s life.
Thanks for your recommendation for introspection, but it has already been done for myself. And of course, as much as I would love to discuss what are the duties entailed by the “second commandment”, but well, I don’t want to be accused of “putting words in God’s mouth” or bringing up a theological argument in a civic issue.
On the issue of “putting words into God’s mouth”, I’m pointing the finger at many Christians and churches. The category into which you fall, will be the category into which you fall.
When a “societal norm” argument is used to justify a law, and the “societal norm” is based on repugnance on religious grounds, the religion of a (notably non-majority) group has forced itself upon the law. The imagery is not pretty.
We have to note that this repugnance is based merely on an emotional externality for a group. While I have a right to demand that a law be passed criminalizing someone breaking into my home and taking my things (at least the things I am not about to throw out), I do not have such a disgusting sense of entitlement that I demand my comfort to be legislated. I don’t think that is too high a standard to hold people by.
As such, the law is a standard of hospitality. We, as a society, do not accept robbers and murderers. We do not accept (contractually verifiable) cheats. We ostracize such people, and “put them away” into enclosures, limit their movement, restrict their access to their property and so on. (Strange how we are more hospitable to criminals when they are rich, but that is a different matter.)
Let me be a little theological now, since it is very hard to credibly deny the large hand Christian “norms” have had on this decision. (If so, deny it credibly.) In the Bible (the New Testament), Jesus talks about the primacy of intention. Coercion, especially legal coercion, takes nothing away from that. A cheat will be a cheat, a robber will be a robber, a murderer will be a murderer, if even just at heart. I guess I am all of them in that case. We win people over to our way by… showing them the light. (And to allude to Buddhism…) Helping them to a point to see that their impulses to “wrong-doing” are the result of an illusory perception of benefit.
Returning to the role of the state, in spite of the above theological position, it would not make sense to decriminalize murder (et. al.), for the state has a duty to protect. But where there is no victim, and only some self-inflicted (hence, illusory) unease at the possibility of a state of affairs reasonably removed from one’s personal orbit, does the state have a duty to intervene?
You are pointing your finger at “many” Christians and churches, not the entire category. Therefore unless you want to explicitly point the finger at me, then I don’t see what is the point of mentioning I fall into the category since you aren’t saying anything about the entire category and EVERYONE in it.
An interesting string of hypothetical ifs. But is it so? We could speculate upon what ifs all day, but this is rather uninteresting until you move from “if” to “is”.
We have to note nothing of that sort until it is proven and justified. And extrapolating your own personal experience unto other people is hardly a credible proof of the whole. And while you are right that people in general do not ask to have their comforts legislated, but since you have yet to prove that the justification for this law is based on repulsion and by extension comfort, therefore the argument is moot. Besides, your assume that the law’s ONLY justification is for our comfort, which I flatly deny as there are other excellent objective reasons for the legislation beyond one’s subjective comfort.
Unfortunately I do not accept your first premise that the law is the standard of acceptability and hospitality. A society may jail robbers and murderers, but jailing them for purposes of deterrence and safety is not the same as not “accepting” them. I would like to think that a society is capable of “accepting” in some charitable sense criminals and therefore the law is not the standard for “acceptability”.
I am not really interested to get into a full blown discussion into evangelism and the content and message of the Gospel for this is a discussion which is highly irrelevant to the present post. I am happy to discuss those issues, but in another context and at another time.
Discussing the state’s role will go into a very massive discussion into political philosophy, etc. Suffice to say, your notion of “protect” is rather narrow, protect what? Lives? Social order? Contracts? Is is a consensual 14 year old sex partner to a thirty year old man a “victim”? How is victimhood to be determined?
These are extremely heavy and complex questions, questions which I suspect would require extremely long discussion to resolve. I think rather than forcing the question upwards to such a macrolevel, it would be best just to stick to the particular issue at hand.
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