HOMOSEXUALITY AND MORALITY Debra Chua Photo from christymcferren.com
he legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK and the recent furore over comments made about Section 377A, a law which criminalises sexual relations between men, points to an underlying disconnect between the approaches that parties in the debate take towards the legitimacy of using legislation to regulate personal conduct on the grounds of its immorality. One of the fundamental tenets of political liberalism is that the moral conduct of the individual should not be policed by the state, on the basis that to do so would be to pass a normative judgment and hence privilege a certain conception of the “good” over others. The motivation behind this tenet is the accommodation of diversity in differing conceptions of what constitutes “good”, and how the individual may choose to pursue their ideals, thus upholding the inviolability of the principle of personal autonomy. A desirable effect of upholding this tenet is the prevention of statesponsored coercion of minority views.
It therefore comes as no surprise that pro-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights supporters have traditionally appealed to abstract, “morallyneutral” values of autonomy, equality, tolerance, and privacy to justify the accordance of civil rights to LGBT individuals, particularly in societies in which the majority hold opinions which are not conciliatory towards the LGBT community. This is a mistake. It is undeniable that arguments focusing on “morally-neutral” values would carry much weight in countries which are committed to liberalism, and have these commitments enshrined in their constitution. However, As MP Thio Li-Ann rightly pointed out in her parliamentary speech in 2007 on the repealing of Section 377A, Singapore does not refrain from passing normative judgments through legislation on the basis of a particular conception of the good precisely because the state has never sought to emulate wholesale the liberal democracy of the Western nations. Hence,
within the Singapore context, it is misguided for pro-LGBT rights supporters to continue to appeal to the separation of morality and the law.
SINGAPORE DOES NOT REFRAIN FROM PASSING NORMATIVE JUDGMENTS”
A perfunctory review of debates over LGBT rights in other countries reveals a common pattern in argumentation for both sides of the camp. More often than not, the pro-LGBT rights camp appeals to “morally-neutral” values of autonomy, equality, tolerance, and privacy, while the conservative camp appeals to moral beliefs which arise out of their religious beliefs and/or social conservatism. Given the almost adamant liberal avoidance of broaching the issue of the morality of homosexuality, it is understandable that one would come to think that homosexuality cannot be justified, or would have a weaker case
to make if it appealed on moral grounds. This avoidance may be a conscious decision of the liberal camp, which might fear that they would lose out in the public debate over the morality of homosexuality—a fear which is perhaps not entirely unfounded, as literal readings of most religious texts and traditional conservative values view homosexual conduct as morally impermissible or at least severely frowned upon. In spite of this, I argue that it would be erroneous for the liberal camp to cede the moral high ground to the social conservatives. Prima facie, there is no obvious reason why engaging in consensual, sexual relations with a member of the same gender is less moral than engaging in a heterosexual one. To argue that the decriminalisation of homosexuality would be the catalyst which sets us down a slippery slope of morality, and open the moral floodgates safeguarding us from indisputably immoral acts like bestiality, paedophilia and consensual
March 2013 issue of THE RIDGE - the largest student-run magazine in the National University of Singapore