Minister of State for Education Lui Tuck Yew spoke about homosexuality in a rather confused manner that revealed a lack of reflection on the subject.
He first implied that even if homosexuality was an inborn trait – a conclusion that he ultimately dismissed despite the bulk of scientific evidence – the state could still criminalise it. To illustrate his reasoning, he referred to paedophilia and psychopathy. Apart from these being prejudicial and derogatory associations, he failed to recognise that paedophilia has victims – the children – and the state has an legitimate interest in protecting them. As for psychopathy, it is not even a criminal offence. Both are inappropriate as analogies as to why, even if homosexuality is inborn, the state can legitimately make its expression a crime.
Lui next said that even if consensual homosexuality harms no one, that does not mean that the state can’t criminalise it. To illustrate, he referred to incest and bestiality. Again, these are inapplicable as analogies. With an animal, informed consent is not obtainable. It therefore cannot be consensual. In the case of incest, Lui seems to have ignored the possibility of an injured third party, namely a child that is conceived from the act and who may suffer medical defects as a result of inbreeding. An argument can thus be made that the state has a legitimate interest in forestalling such tragedies to innocent lives by regulating incest. No similar argument can be made about homosexual relationships.
The use of dissimilar analogies confuses a debate. Lui should stick to the known empirical facts about sexual orientation and gay and lesbian lives when dealing with the issue.
It is chilling that he should argue that even if an inborn trait causes no harm to anyone else, society can still criminalise it. It smacks of paternalistic illiberalism of the worst kind, qualities that are contrary to Singapore’s aim of being an open, creative, cosmopolitan city. This is especially as his only defence for such a stance is that of “norms”. He fails to distinguish between social norms that are rationally based and serve a social good, and “norms” which are no more than another name for widespread irrational prejudice.
People Like Us has long argued that homophobia is the latter kind. No convincing argument has yet been made of any social harm that results from homosexual orientation. Even Lui himself was conceding this point through his attempt to argue that if (harmless) incest can be criminalised, so can homosexuality.
His last point, that the government cannot move except “at a pace that society allows” does not bear scrutiny either. In so many other areas, the government has exercised leadership, doing what is necessary even if many Singaporeans haven’t yet been convinced. Why not in repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code?
None other than Lee Kuan Yew said it was necessary, when he told Reuters on 24 April 2007: “I would say if this is the way the world is going and Singapore is part of that interconnected world – and I think it is – then I see no option for Singapore but to be part of it.”
For Lui to say the government cannot exercise leadership, for he himself to oppose doing what is necessary for Singapore’s future – on such poorly-reasoned grounds too – is inexcusable.
Lui told his audience that on the matter of homosexuality, students should be “looking at information, talking to people and coming to our own informed conclusion.” Indeed, they should and so should he, especially meeting and talking to the gay minority.
“[I]t is important that we sit down, deliberate and think through it carefully,” he said. He should take his own advice.
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For the record, Lui was speaking on 22 May 2007 at a Pre-University Seminar held at Nanyang Technological University with a reported 600 students in attendance.
His remarks were in response to a question from Victoria Junior College student Ho Zhi Hui as to how the government would reconcile “ideas and ideologies” that would be increasingly in conflict as Singapore “opens up to the world and becomes more liberal”. Her question referred to homosexuality and the recent remarks made by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
Minister of State Lui was reported to have said,
There will be different tension points, between what we will characterise as liberals and conservatives. Which is why it’s all the more important that we have our own deep internal convictions and beliefs, and form them as a result of looking at information, talking to people and coming to our own informed conclusion.
[At this point, according to TODAY newspaper (23 May 2007, ‘Main society not ready’), Lui was reported to have acknowledged Minister Mentor Lee’s comments on the possible genetics of homosexuality. TODAY reported that Lui said “he does not subscribe to the theory that it is a ‘medical condition’.”]
My position is that I’m not so sure I subscribe to those arguments…Even if it’s a medical condition, do you excuse paedophiles and psychopaths and people like that who can likewise claim to have a medical condition.
If you say homosexuality – you are not doing harm to anybody, it’s only between the two of us…Well, there are lot of relationships between either a person and maybe even an animal, or between a person and another person, perhaps incestuous in nature, that are between the two of us and we are not doing harm to anybody else.
To me, there are certain norms in society and before we make major shifts to those norms, it is important that we sit down, deliberate and think through it carefully and move at a pace that society allows us to move.
– Straits Times, 23 May 2007
From Channel NewsAsia, he appears to have added two sentences more:
It does not mean that we should not try to reshape the thinking and so on and so forth, but we can only move at the pace at which society allows us to move. That’s my own personal thoughts about it, and I don’t think… certainly… I am not ready to move and I do not think a major segment of society is ready to move.
– Channel NewsAsia, 23 May 2007, ‘Homosexuality issue
will always bring out tensions in society: RAdm Lui’