Wednesday, May 09, 2007
The freedom to disagree, respectfully
Associate Professor Victor Ramraj has written a well-argued, intellectually sound, balanced piece, "The freedom to disagree, respectfully", in the Straits Times Review, May 8, 2007. We agree with him that some of the points raised in an earlier article by Ms Yvonne CL Lee were more opinion than fact.

It is very encouraging that Prof Ramraj supports having healthy, serious dialogues on important topics in the open society that Singapore aspires to be. We believe that every Singaporean is vested in creating a supportive, healthy and happy society to live in. The difference lies in what each person considers healthy or happy. Therefore, SAFE believes that we should continue to converse and find out fellow Singaporeans' view points, to walk in the shoes they walk in, for a day or a week, even if we do not wish to wear the same shoes for a lifetime. We should continue to be supportive of all our fellow citizens and others who call Singapore their home. - Khoo Hoon Eng, for SAFE


The freedom to disagree, respectfully
May 9, 2007
For The Straits Times, Victor V. Ramraj

IT HAS been argued that the decriminalisation of sodomy is the first step on a slippery slope towards a 'homosexual agenda' that includes civil unions and same-sex marriages.

I disagree with this view and the arguments advanced in support of it. Still, the debate on this subject has provided us with a key lesson on the importance of public discussion on matters of deep moral significance - and the importance of respectful disagreement.

First, a few comments on some of the claims in the debate.

Even in societies abroad where legal structures such as same-sex civil unions have been introduced, this did not happen overnight, but only after significant shifts in social and political attitudes.

If the majority of Singaporeans find homosexuality offensive, then there is little reason for them to worry that the entire legal landscape will change in an instant.

If change eventually does come, it will follow only after open and respectful debate and a conscious choice on the part of Singaporeans to become a more tolerant and hospitable society.

Others, particularly in cyberspace this past week, have challenged the accuracy of empirical claims behind the argument to retain sodomy as a crime - and the debate will no doubt continue. I will not repeat these arguments here. As for constitutional law, formal constitutional doctrine on such matters is hardly conclusive. In 1930, Lord Sankey likened a
Constitution to 'a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits'. Particularly in Singapore, where the methodology of constitutional law is still evolving, there is much to be said for this vision.

Intolerant vs criminal

I WANT to turn, however, to a rather different point that arises from this controversy. Does branding opponents of decriminalisation 'intolerant' undermine or effectively censor free speech?

Surely, the answer to this question is no. Indeed, the reverse may be more likely; opponents of decriminalisation effectively silence others by continuing to regard the behaviour they oppose as criminal. To be branded intolerant is one thing; to be branded a criminal is quite another.

The publication of letters and commentary in this newspaper shows that those who disagree with decriminalisation are perfectly free to express their views. Perhaps, then, the deeper concern is not that these views will be censored (plainly, they haven't been), but that others will not find them convincing. If that is the true concern, then rigorous and respectful
persuasion would be the answer.

If the discussion on Singapore blogs is any indication, recent exchanges about the decriminalisation of sodomy have provoked an important debate, one that demonstrates that Singaporeans, including many tertiary students, are
far from apathetic when it comes to issues of great social significance. An issue of profound social importance is receiving the serious public attention, reflection and debate it deserves.

The sources of identity

FOR those who choose to engage in this debate, let us remind ourselves that our words have profound personal impact on those around us, on both sides of this controversy.

Those whose religious views are tolerant of homosexuality, and especially those of us with secular-humanist inclinations, must remain sensitive to the deeply personal and communal role that religious doctrine plays in the lives
of many.

At the same time, we must have faith that those who oppose the decriminalisation of sodomy on religious grounds will acknowledge that personal identity need not be a matter of religion at all. It is possible, even common, to define one's identity outside of religion - in terms of one's intimate relationships, career goals, community service, life-long projects and deep personal convictions. A person's sense of identity is no less worthy of respect in the public square on account of its secular sources.

I can only imagine the deep personal anguish experienced by gays and lesbians in Singapore when confronted by the criminal law. Their voices should be heard in the spirit of an open, respectful and meaningful discussion.

Whatever is said in the course of this debate, it is clear that someone, somewhere, will take offence. But the ability for all to speak out should not be taken for granted. There are reasonable limits to be placed on hateful speech - a view that I have defended elsewhere. But in the present context, in a society that is increasingly more open, I find myself drawn to the pithy comment sometimes attributed to Voltaire: 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'

The writer is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. This essay reflects his personal views only.

Source and copyright: The Straits Times



Straits Times Review article 'Decriminalising homosexual acts would be an error', by Yvonne Lee (archived on the Yawning Bread website)

Khoo Hoon Eng's personal response to Yvonne Lee's article.

Professor's views on gays prejudiced, by Brian Selby - a response to Yvonne Lee's article.

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Monday, May 07, 2007
Dr Khoo Hoon Eng's response to Yvonne Lee's Review article
The following was written by Dr Khoo Hoon Eng, as a response to Yvonne Lee's Review article for The Straits Times 'Decriminalising homosexual acts would be an error', published on May 4, 2007. These are Dr Khoo's personal views.


I am writing in response to Ms. Yvonne C. L. Lee's article, "Decriminalising homosexual acts would be an error," published May 4, 2007.

Despite being written by an academic, it is full of misleading rhetoric and did not make any serious attempts to back up its sweeping and alarmist claims. It asserts that "it is a known medical fact that homosexual intercourse or sodomy is an inherently unhealthy act that carries higher risks of a number of sexually transmitted infections." Unfortunately, this "known medical fact" is completely unsubstantiated and patently false. Bacteria and viruses do not care about the gender of those who transmit them. Any unprotected oral or anal sex is risky regardless of the gender of those involved.

The article misleadingly projects that the age of consent for sex between men might be set between 13 and 18. It neglects to mention that the current age of consent for girls is 14, and that there is no age of consent for boys. Any responsible parent would feel anxious about teenagers having sexual intercourse of any kind, gay or straight. However, at least with heterosexual intercourse, the balance that society has struck is not outlawing or penalizing such acts, but giving parents the responsibility of teaching their children about responsible behavior.

The writer also expresses her concern about the "broader agenda" of "homosexual rights." Legalise sodomy, she claims, and same-sex marriage, gays in the media, the erosion of religious liberty, and the sanctioning of paedophilia and bestiality is sure to follow. This is a classic example of a "slippery slope" fallacy where the writer provides little to no explanation exactly how getting rid of 377a in Singapore will lead to all these other laws changing nor how paedophilia and bestiality will follow. I would challenge the writer to name one country where sodomy has been decriminalized and which has now sanctioned paedophilia and bestiality.

It hardly seems likely that homosexuals are "dictating" law reform in Singapore. So it is ironic when the writer accuses the "homosexual rights agenda" of being "divisive". Lest it be forgotten, these "homosexuals" are our brothers, our sons, our friends, and our fellow citizens. There are gay Indians, Chinese, Malays, Europeans, and Eurasians. There are gay Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists. Gay people are as invested as anyone else in Singapore in ensuring that we have a strong, multireligious, multiracial community where everyone is entitled to respect, dignity, acceptance and empowerment.

- Khoo Hoon Eng



Read the article by Yvonne Lee - 'Decriminalising homosexual acts would be an error' (archived on the Yawning Bread website)

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Straits Times Forum letter: Whether heterosexual or gay, treat all equally
The following appeared in The Straits Times' Forum page and ST Online on 1 May 2007. The original letter was sent with all of our founding members' signatures, in addition to Susan's. (In their exchange with Susan, The Straits Times said they would only print one.) The letter was also edited by The Straits Times for publication.

If you would like to show your support for our letter, you may sign your name, and any further comments, in the link below. Alternatively, you may send in your names and comments to our email address - safesingapore[at]

*Show your support*


1 May 2007
Whether heterosexual or gay, treat all equally

SAFE is a group of family and friends who affirm and support gay and transgendered people as persons with equal rights to respect, dignity, acceptance and empowerment in society.

We are writing to express our thanks to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for his recent comments at the dialogue with Young PAP and in the interview with Reuters.

We appreciate the two cogent points he made:

That homosexuality is a genetic variation, not an aberration.

That the law against homosexual acts is outmoded.

We at Safe are hopeful that the law that criminalises homosexual acts will be abolished. Whether heterosexual or gay, we believe that all Singapore citizens and residents should be treated equally under the law.

We cannot agree with a law that proclaims our sons, grandsons, brothers, nephews, uncles, relatives and friends as criminals for a propensity that is not of their volition, is innocuous and part of their private lives. For far too long our gay loved ones from a young age have suffered deep internalised oppression, often resulting in the disintegration of family, compromised relationships, low self-esteem, stunted maturity and unavoidable deceitfulness.

We support the decriminalisation of oral and anal sex as proposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and ask that it apply equally to all consenting adults.

Homosexual men and women enrich our lives through their participation in business, the professions, the arts and government. As we focus on the richness gay people bring to our lives and our love and support for them, we not only liberate them, but we also become a society committed to the Asian values of real family.

Susan Yap Siu Sen (Ms)

Founding member S A F E
Supporting, Affirming & Empowering our lgbtQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning) friends and family


Read our press release:
SAFE responds to MM Lee's comments on homosexuality

Read the Reuters article:
Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew questions homosexuality ban

Read a related letter on today's Forum page:
Justify why gay acts should remain criminal