Today: The Gay Debate and the Breakthrough We Need

Monday, May 21, 2007

May 21, 2007



Editorial Director

NO amount of print or pressure, or even persuasion, is going to change the Government's stand on what is being described by some as an archaic and discriminatory law: A law that makes overt homosexuality a crime in Singapore.

That is the only black-and-white certainty in the on-going debate on gays. The rest, as they say, is all grey.

So why bother even talking about it, asked a friend exasperated with the glacial pace in the politics of change here.

Over lunch, we tried to jog our collective memories on the number of occasions when the Government introduced a new law or changed a stand because of overt influence from the outside.
Two stick out like sore thumbs: Former Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Woon's push in 1995 for a law to force children to pay for their parents' maintenance — the only Act passed by Parliament since 1965 not initiated by the Government — and the official embrace in 2001 of a group of nature lovers who wanted to save Chek Jawa from reclamation.

There have been instances of Government reversal (such as on the graduate mothers policy) and tweaking (to allow the restricted viewing of certain movies). But these have all originated from within, with no overt pressure or persuasion from without.

The Jeremys of this world, as quoted in Today's weekend report, need to know that this is a government that guards jealously its self-imposed change-from-within mandate.

For every Jeremy and partner who want to pack up and go because of the legal discrimination against gays here, there is a Dennis and partner, who swear by Singapore's enlightened attitude — covert though it may be — towards gay couples like them.

I met Dennis, his partner and two other gays at a 31-year-old lady's birthday a month ago. They led me into a world of highly-intelligent, highly-articulate and highly-successful people.

They have an opinion – a penetrating and alternative one, mind you — on nearly everything that is happening in Singapore and around the world. That is definitely refreshing in a place where debate and discussion, even in a dinner setting, is lacking.

Even more refreshing was to see how the four gays took care of the two straight women at the table. They fussed over the women, talking about the latest fashion trends and bitching about nearly everything and everybody under the sun. The dinner ended with one of the women whispering into her husband's ear: "They are God's gift to women!"

I am sure many of the 62.3 per cent of the heartlanders who said, in a Today survey, that they are against legalising homosexuality would have a different view if they got to mingle with these people more often.

That is what happened with Britain's Ministry of Defence which allowed gays to serve in the armed forces.

Today, seven years later, the ministry's verdict: None of its fears of harassment, discord, blackmail and bullying have come to pass, according to an International Herald Tribune report.

If it can happen in a macho and tightly-regulated environment like the armed forces, then Singapore society in general should pose no great barrier.

Singapore needs gays, not just because of the pink dollar and the economic value they bring, but also because they add a colourful and intellectual vibrancy to our city.

With the law and the politics on gays unlikely to change for sometime, the next best thing is for us all to get to know them better.

They have the same emotions we have. A teacher friend once told me, misty- eyed and all, about the pain he suffered after breaking up with his partner. Another, a doctor, spoke of how he is consumed by guilt every time his parents ask him why he is not getting married.

Yes, gays are normal people and they should be treated normally. That is the breakthrough we need to achieve in this gay debate.