Sunday, May 31, 2009

Standing up for the "sexually challenged"

It's easy to retch at the California Supreme Court's decision to uphold the legal-discrimination edict of Proposition 8. A shame, yes, but really not all that surprising. And, sadly, it was the "right" decision, in that the court's job is to interpret the constitution, not legislate. Like it or not, in a state famously "governed by proposition", the constitution actually allows the nuptial equivalent of separate drinking fountains for gay people.

That is reason enough for California to junk its current constitution and start from scratch. Suffocating 2/3-majority requirements that leave the state financially hamstrung every year is probably the most politically viable reason to start fresh, but the fact that California's constitution now officially promotes ignorance makes the whole thing seem worthless. The fact that a majority of ignoramuses can pass a measure so rooted in archaic understandings of human relationships proves the current system is seriously flawed in what is otherwise a fine state.

Then again, it's not all that bad when compared to the situation in Singapore. We learned earlier that views of homosexuality here are not exactly enlightened. And though I think people in the US who would deny a homosexual the right to marry the person he or she loves would be the same people a generation earlier tsk tsking at "uppity negroes" holding up traffic, I also realize that they don't hold a flame to attitudes here.

To review the basics: sex between two men in Singapore is against the law; it is a "gross indecency" under section 377A. Apparently, sex between women is OK, or at least not criminal -- they seem to differentiate between "lesbianism" and "homosexuality" here. To be fair, anal and oral sex of any kind was illegal here until 2007, when that ban was repealed. Progress?

Like elsewhere, I would hope attitudes towards homosexuals here are evolving and that discrimination will die out in the next generation. But reading some of the things printed in the paper last week makes me think attitudes here have a long way to go.

Take this letter to the Straits Times, posted on the website. The author sagely informs us that "sexually challenged" is not an offensive term referring to gays. He continues:

"It is a fact that homosexuality is an abnormality for the simple reason that it is against the laws of nature. Nature intended each species to reproduce itself and homosexuality does not do the job.

"It is possible that some people are born with homosexual inclinations but that does not make them normal. They are in the same category as people born mentally retarded or blind or deaf or mute. While we may sympathise with them, we do not think of them as normal."

How enlightening. (In case that link disappears, as the ST website is not terribly reliable in its archives, here's the cache.)

On Thursday, another article ran quoting a professor named Koo Tsai Kee, who delivered an impassioned plea to Parliament warning that "intolerance" poses the biggest threat to Singapore. Ok, you'd think, some truly wise words. (Here's the cache.)

"Intolerance", Mr Koo says, is a "growing cancer in society". But to him, intolerance only relates to "religious and racial bigotry". The AWARE saga (linked above) was a showdown between a group of conservative Christians and another group of (for the sake of derogatory hyperbole) homosexual sympathizers. That the debate was "framed" this way by the media, Mr Koo claims, shows there is a clear "intolerance of diversity". In other words, being supportive of gays is an affront to Christianity and, thus, a potentially destructive show of intolerance.

The way the saga was covered, Mr Koo suggests, was tainted by reporters "hobnobbing with the homosexual fraternity", something that calls into question "whether there should ever be an unregulated press". ST editor Han Fook Kwang rightly refuted such claims in his defense of ST's coverage, which was as complete as it could be under the circumstances.

But no one in the mix seems to understand the heart of the issue: Tolerance means tolerating everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual preference. The very fact that there are laws on the books ANYWHERE that legalize discrimination and criminalize human nature is an affront to humanity. Until we see the end of officially sanctioned intolerance, the "growing cancer" will continue to spread.

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