Sunday, 13 May 2007

PMO response on Singapore Day, and Straits Times interview on homosexuality on 11 May 2007

I was out of town for much of this week, and was ill over the weekend (unfortunately, still am). So I've not been blogging or replying e-mails.

Regarding Singapore Day, there was a response by the Overseas Singapore Unit of the Prime Minister's Office in TODAY on 9 May 2007. There was a line in there which said:

"Mr Siew's commentary is built around his mistaken premise that Singapore Day was organised to woo overseas Singaporeans back."

Someone has e-mailed PMO to point that my piece included this line:

"I prefer to take the Government at face value and think that the event served to refresh connections with overseas Singaporeans, to remind and update them about Singapore."

PMO has still not responded to that e-mail. I am keenly curious as to what they will respond with.

And I'd like to thank all of you who have posted or e-mailed supportive comments on the Yvonne Lee and homosexuality issue. The Straits Times ran a piece on Friday, basically a Q&A with 3 lawyers: Ms Indranee Rajah, Mr Lim Biow Chuan, and myself. I have reproduced below the published Q&A with me (yes, they asked me to look at the final edited version, so a big-up to the journalist for that!).

MR SIEW KUM HONG, 32, senior counsel for CA, an IT management software company. He is single and has been a Nominated Member of Parliament since January.

Your response to MM Lee’s comments?

My first thought was that his view was premised on pragmatism, not principle. It might result in what I believe to be the right conclusion (ie. decriminalisation of gay sex), but I do not agree with the reasoning process. In the end, it rests entirely on homosexuality being genetic but if there is subsequently any evidence that homosexuality is not genetic, then does it mean we should change positions again?

My own belief is that homosexual sex should be decriminalised regardless of whether homosexuality is genetic. It is fundamental to respecting people’s dignity and their freedom to lead their private lives as they decide to the extent it does not harm others, regardless of why they would want to lead their lives that way.

What do you think of the current situation, where homosexual sex is banned but is not proactively enforced?

Having a provision on the books that the Government has explicitly stated it will not proactively enforce, risks bringing the law into disrepute. And here’s another question – what if a homosexual is jilted and makes a complaint against his former partner? Should the police take enforcement action then? But should enforcement be based solely on whether a complaint is made? If so, is that a rational and justifiable basis for deciding whether to enforce?

On what basis should laws be made? Should they reflect values and morality? What about pragmatism?

I do not think that laws should reflect values and morality per se. Instead, I believe that laws should deter and prevent harm to people. And if that coincides with morality, then great.

But they are conceptually separate and distinct concepts, and we need to bear that in mind. There is a great danger when laws are used to enforce values and morality, because they do change. Women previously could not vote, and this was enforced by law. Obviously, values and morality have changed since those times, and I think rightly so.They are also not universal, and so could potentially oppress those who do not share such values and morality.

How do we advance the debate on decriminalising homosexual sex, beyond the fixed standpoints that have been presented?

I’m not sure if you can. The starting points are so fundamentally different that they are essentially arguing at cross-purposes. How do you convince, through argument, a Christian who is convinced that homosexuality is evil and immoral, a sin that needs to be outlawed? I don’t think you can.

But policy and law-makers have a different responsibility. I would hope and expect policy- and law-makers to acknowledge that their own values and moral beliefs are personal to them, and that policy- and law-making requires them to adopt more objective approaches.

Some will and have argued that the approach embodied in the Wolfenden Report (a 1960s document that sets the basis for the decriminalisation of homosexual sex in the United Kingdom) itself represents a value statement about the importance of personal liberty. But I would argue that that is a universal value, and is irrelevant.

The question is the extent to which personal liberty should be limited by the law, and so it falls on those who argue for criminalising homosexuality to demonstrate convincingly that private consensual homosexual sex results in external harm that merits it being criminalised.

There has always been a sense that societal norms here should evolve at the pace of the most conservative members of society. Do you agree? What sort of pace should society proceed at in terms of discussing this issue?

Actually, that’s not the case. I think Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has previously stated that we should not move at the fastest (most liberal) or the slowest (most conservative), but with the mass in the middle. So far, the Government has identified the mass in the middle to be against the decriminalisation of homosexual sex.

But should that be the sole consideration? Surely the moral sensibilities of the mass in the middle should be balanced against the implications of the continued criminalisation of homosexual sex: the intolerant message sent by society, the lack of dignity or respect shown to a segment of our society (estimated at maybe 4 to 6 per cent), the inexorable exodus of homosexual Singaporeans overseas never to return, and the unquantifiable number of foreign talent who are homosexual and so simply decline to come to work in Singapore.

Law-making is a balancing act, to balance the different interests at play. I am not convinced that the continued criminalisation of homosexual sex strikes a balance that is most beneficial to Singapore and Singaporeans.


family man said...

Thank you. It was good to read your stand which I support. I would appreciate if you could ask the govt on how the NS men who where injured / killed in the latest Taiwan outing will be compensated. Also, interesting to read about this:

Siew Kum Hong said...

To family man:I had read Edmund Ng's original post. That's something I am considering for July's sitting.

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