Over the last few weeks I’ve seen a great deal of vehement opposition to the Health Promotion Board’s FAQ on sexuality, and most of it left me feeling as if I had been wading through a knee-deep pit of thick, sticky, foul-smelling sewage. A minority of writers did put forward calm and reasoned arguments, but for the most part, I got the impression that people who oppose homosexuality are a bunch of raving trolls. Yes – that was the quality of the thought, language and attitudes I observed.
Now, for the sake of fairness, I shall add that the pro-homosexuality faction has its share of screaming nuts. But for some reason, there are far, far more offensive voices in the anti group.
Precisely because of the amount of strong language and emotion-based reasoning flying around, I decided that I wanted to look at this as neutrally and objectively as I could. This is what I came up with:
What is the real objection?
Let’s begin by thinking about what people are objecting to. They are objecting to the information provided by the Health Promotion Board. What is this information?
In intention, the information is about how homosexuals can maintain their physical and mental health. In practice, the information is…well, it’s about how homosexuals can address the unique health-related problems they face and thereby maintain their physical and mental health. I’ve read through it repeatedly and while I still find the title and presentation of the article rather misleading, the content is essentially what HPB probably wanted it to be.
Let us reduce the intention of the HPB’s article to its basics. The article aims to provide health-related information to a minority group which does not have easy access to such information, with the ultimate aim of ensuring that members of this minority group are able to care for themselves. In practice, it is still too early to know what the actual effect of the article will be.
But in terms of intention, when you object to the publication of this article, your intention is essentially to say that you do not want a minority group to have access to health information. You are saying that you do not want people in this minority group to be able to care for themselves. You are saying that you do not want the authorities to look after this minority group – that you want the authorities to discriminate against them by omission. Do you see how intrinsically wrong this attitude is?
There is another version of the above attitude. Certain groups are saying that the information in the HPB’s article is inaccurate, and cite their own sources as proof. They are basically arguing that they know better than the authorities how to look after a minority group. This is a legitimate viewpoint. However, there is a fundamental question here – who really knows better?
Who has the right to determine?
The Health Promotion Board’s mandate is to promote health and prevent disease among residents in Singapore (summarized from its website). It has decided, based upon its own research – we will assume here that due diligence was adequately carried out – that publishing the FAQ on sexuality contributes to achieving its goal. In short, the HPB’s grounds for publishing the FAQ are related to the purpose of its existence.
The interest groups that wish the HPB to take the FAQ down argue that the article promotes immoral behaviour and should therefore be removed. I find this argument deeply disturbing on several levels.
Firstly: It claims superiority of a religion that is not universal.
I have observed that with only a few exceptions, the arguments against homosexuality and by extension against the HPB’s article are religious in nature. Again reducing it to the basics, certain religious interpretations find that homosexuality is against their moral codes. (I won’t say that it’s against any particular religion, because I’ve also seen that different members of the same religion hold differing views on this.)
It’s fine if they are against it for religious reasons. Our society supports freedom of belief. However, massive complications arise when the groups following these religious interpretations demand that the authorities should alter their policies to match their internal codes. They are basically saying that their internal codes and their interpretations are superior to the policies adopted and pursued by the governing bodies of the nation. In plain words: they are saying that the principles of [insert religion here] are superior to the secular principles of the Singapore government. In a multi-religious, multi-racial society, this is a hideous claim to make. There is no excuse for it.
Secondly: It attempts to determine the public good based on discrimination against another group.
The intentions of the anti-homosexuality interest groups are, in their view, benign. They believe that they are acting for the public good, and they have a clear definition of the public good which they actively work to advance. In this particular case, their definition of the public good revolves around the idea that homosexuality is bad.
It is the right of these interest groups to put forward such a definition and lobby for it. But this particular definition strongly suggests and, in other countries, has led directly to the idea that homosexuality must be marginalised and even actively discriminated against for the sake of the public good.
I won’t go into utilitarian ethics here. But this argument basically says that (1) the existence of a certain minority group is harmful to society and therefore (2) the public good is based upon how much discrimination is directed against that minority group. I consider both arguments to be flawed, firstly by the fallacy of absolutes, and secondly by the fallacy of the false dilemma.
Who is really being hurt?
The arguments against the HPB’s sexuality FAQ all share a common denominator. They dehumanize everyone. Not only homosexuals, but other members of society. To say that someone’s sexuality can be changed by something as simple as reading an article – that disregards people’s agency, their ability to make choices, their capacity to think for themselves. It suggests that their very identity is so easily swayed as to be unimportant. And that ultimately hurts everyone…
…except, maybe, the individuals who seek to gain power by guiding and influencing others’ thoughts.
I’m going to finish by sharing a very personal story here. I’ve seen people argue that homosexuality destroys the family unit, and this is my answer:
Many years ago, a pastor told me that it is natural for Christianity to break up families, that it is in fact part of the teachings of Jesus that families should be broken up by the faith. He told me that in response to my anguish over the fact that my staunchly Buddhist grandmother had been converted to Christianity on her deathbed, under false pretences, while she suffered from dementia so severe she couldn’t recognize her own children, and was now buried separately from my grandfather as a result. Meanwhile, a close relative had been influenced to will all her wealth to a church, completely disregarding and nearly cutting off other members of the family who were in financial need. I was in pain; my family was in pain; and that was the answer a religious leader gave me.
Tell me again, then, that homosexuality is bad because it breaks up families. Look what Christianity did to my family. Oh, you won’t forgive a complete stranger for being homosexual? Well, I forgive complete strangers for being Christian. Now tell me again who is bad.