Homosexuality excerpts from Hard Truths

This post is just for the record. My comments will be in a separate post [Update: they are here: Circus bears and other thoughts from Hard Truths]

Singapore Press Holdings recently launched a book containing interviews with Lee Kuan Yew titled Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going. In there are several references to homosexuality — an issue that has become a staple in our socio-political discourse and in fact a litmus test of Singapore’s maturity and secularism.

The excerpt from pages 225 and 362 are editorials, while those from pages 247 and 377 are (almost surely redacted) excerpts from interviews with Lee.

* * * * *

Page 224 – 225:

In more recent years, Christians have begun to make their voice heard in public policy debates over issues ranging from casinos to homosexuality. In the debate over whether Singapore should have casinos, Christian groups organised online petitions. Similarly, during the debate on whether the ban against homosexuality should remain in the law books, Christian groups made their disapproval of any lifting of the ban clear. The authors’ two interviews with Lee on race and religion took place in the midst of public concern that a group of Christian women had taken over women’s group Aware, a well-established secular non-government organisation. The group of Christian women at the centre of the controversy denied they had deliberately moved in to take over a secular organisation. They said their involvement was due to concern over Aware’s promotion of a homosexual agenda in its sex education programme for schools.

National concern grew that religious leaders were mixing religion with politics. That happened after a pastor at the church which many of these women belonged to, said in a Sunday sermon that the homosexual issue was a “line that God has drawn for us, and we don’t want our nation crossing the line”. At that point, the national leaders of Singapore’s largest religious groups stepped in to warn against the use of the pulpit in such matters, a move welcomed by the government. Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng also underlined the secular nature of Singapore’s political arena, on behalf of a government that keeps a close eye on such potentially discomfiting developments.

“Our laws and policies do not derive from religious authority, but reflect the judgments and decisions of the secular government and Parliament to serve the national interest and collective good. These laws and public policies apply equally to all, regardless of one’s race, religion or social status. This gives confidence that the system will give equal treatment and protection for all, regardless of which group one happens to belong to,” he said.

Nevertheless, Lee was more sanguine when asked if he shared the non-Christians’ concern that Christians were seeking greater influence in society and within government. The ability of any religious group, including Christians, to influence public policy would remain limited, he said, as long as the government remains secular and Singapore continues to be a multireligious society where no single religion is dominant.

Still, those unmoved by the wave of rising religiosity wonder whether religious groups will seek to influence, or worse, pressure government into taking their side in policy-making. Will there be forces that ride on religious sentiment to get into Parliament? Can the government continue to be the dispassionate arbiter? These are questions they — and others — must surely ponder over, whatever their religious persuasion.

* * * * *

Page 247:

Q: Within the Singapore Cabinet, when there are discussion on issues, to what extent do ministers’ religious beliefs influence the positions they take, for example, on moral issues — casinos, homosexuality and so on. Does that ever come up?

A: They’re modern thinking people. This is the reality of the society, we decide what is in our interest and how the people will react. Homosexuality will eventually be accepted. It’s already accepted in China. It’s a matter of time before it’s accepted here.

I don’t see the grassroots being converted to Christianity. If the grassroots are converted, and it’s total, then we become a different society.

* * * * *

Page 361 – 362:

But he was not hidebound by that generation’s conservatism — or even the conservatism of society today, for that matter. “I’m not liberal and I’m not conservative,” he said. “I’m a practical, pragmatic person, always have been and I take things as they are.” Of course, the label of pragmatism can often conceal ideological biases. When Lee’s particular brand of pragmatism was applied to the issues raised by young Singaporeans, however, the results were a mix of the traditional and the progressive.

He believed that women, for example, had a different biological makeup that gave them a special role as mothers. “Women become mothers, women have responsibility to bring up their children. Men will have to share a part of that responsibility but they’re not women, they haven’t borne the child,” he said.

Thus he could see a lesbian couple as effective parents, for example, but not gay men. “Two men looking after a child? Two women looking after a child, maybe, but I’m not so sure, because it’s not their own child. Unless you have artificial insemination and it’s their own child, then you have a certain maternal instinct immediately aroused by the process of pregnancy. But two men adopting a boy or a girl, what’s the point of it?”

* * * * *

Page 377 – 380

Homosexuality — It’s in the genes

As in many societies, the issue of homosexuality is controversial in Singapore. From the heated parliamentary debates in 2007  over whether to retain or repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, which prohibits sex between men (it was eventually retained), to the unease over homosexual content in student sex education manuals, the subject polarises the public. It was no surprise then that we received questions on this topic from both sides of the conservative-liberal divide, including one that asked how Lee would feel if one of his grandchildren were gay.

Q: What is your personal view on being gay? Do you think it’s a lifestyle or is it genetic?

A: No, it’s not a lifestyle. You can read the books you want, all the articles. There’s a genetic difference, so it’s not a matter of choice. They are born that way and that’s that. So if two men or two women are that way, just leave them alone. Whether they should be given rights of adoption is another matter because who’s going to look after the child? Those are complications that arise once you recognise that you could actually legally marry, then you say I want to adopt. Vivian Balakrishnan says it’s not decisively proven. Well, I believe it is. There’s enough evidence that some people are that way and just leave them be.

Q: This is more of a personal question, but how would you feel if one of your grandchildren were to say to you that he or she is gay?

A: That’s life. They’re born with that genetic code, that’s that. Dick Cheney didn’t like gays but his daughter was born like that [14]. He says, “I still love here, full-stop.” It’s happened to his family. So on principle he’s against it but it’s his daughter. Do you throw the daughter out? That’s life. I mean none of my children is gay, but if they were, well, that’s that.

Q: So what do you see is an obstacle to gay couples adopting children? You said, who’s going to look after the child?

A: Who’s going to bring them up? Two men looking after a child? Two women looking after a child, maybe. But I’m not so sure because it’s not their own child. Unless you have artificial insemination and it’s their own child, then you have a certain maternal instinct immediately aroused by the process of pregnancy. But two men adopting a boy or a girl, what’s the point of it? These are consequential problems, we cross the bridge when we come to it. We haven’t come to that bridge yet. The people are not ready for it. In fact, some ministers are not ready for it. I take a practical view. I said this is happening and there’s nothing we can do about it. Life’s like that. People are born like that. It’s not new, it goes back to ancient times. So I think there’s something in the genetic code.

Q: It took time for Singaporeans to be able to accept single women MPs. Do you see Singaporeans being able to accept a gay MP? It’s already happening in a fairly widespread fashion in Europe.

A: As far as I am concerned, if she does her work as an MP, she looks after her constituents, she makes sensible speeches, she’s making a contribution, her private life is her life, that’s that. There was a British minister, I shouldn’t name him, a Conservative. He was out of office but he was hoping to become the leader of the party and we had dinner with a few friends [15]. He thought he had to come out upfront that when he was at university at Oxford, he did get involved in same-sex activities. But he’s married now with children, he’s quite happy. So he came out with it. He didn’t become leader of the party, and that’s Britain. He thought he had come out upfront and it’d protect him him from investigative reporting. It did not help him. But had he kept quiet they would have dug it out, then it’s worse for him. So there you are. You know, there are two standards. It’s one thing the people at large, it’s another thing your minister or your prime minister being such a person. I mean Ted Heath [16] was not married. I shouldn’t say who the ministers were who said he’s a suppressed homosexual. So the opposition party leaders were telling me because it’s very strange. Here’s a man in the prime of life and getting on, 40, 50, still not married, single, and he was that way at Oxford. So they said, suppressed homosexual. That’s the opposition talk by very reputable leaders who tell me that seriously. So? And with it of course is disapprobation, that he’s unworthy to be a leader. But that was in the early 1970s.

Q: Did you come to this view on homosexuality just through scientific reasoning alone?

A: No, by my observation and historical data. I mean, in the Ottoman empire, they had a lot of it. And there was one story that D. H. Lawrence was captured in Arabia and they sodomised him. The Ottomans had their share of homosexuals and I’m sure there were also women in the harems.  So? So be it.

Q: What about your acquaintances or your friends growing up throughout life, were any of them gay as well?

A: I’m not sure about acquaintances, but not my friends. I mean, they were all married. But I’m sure there must have been. This is not something which is recent, it goes back into historic times. And you have animals sometimes acting that way. So it’s not just human beings, there’s something in the genetic code.

Q: So is this one aspect where the conservative views of society are diametrically to your own practical view?

A: I’m not the prime minister, I told you that before I started. If I were the prime minister I would hesitate to push it through against the prevailing sentiment, against the prevailing values of society. You’re going against the current of the people, the underlying feeling. What’s the point of that, you know, breaking new ground and taking unnecessary risk? It will evolve over time, as so many things have, because after a while my own sort of maturing process will take place with other people. You don’t just live and then you cut off your ideas after a certain time. You keep on living and you watch people and you say, “Oh that’s the way life is”.

Q: But are you, personally speaking, frustrated by this conservatism?

A: No. I take a purely practical view.

Q: But are you frustrated by how this conservatism is perhaps opposed to the practical view?

A: No, that is life. I can’t change them overnight. I think society , their own experiences, their own reading, their own observations will bring about change despite their innate biases.

——————————–

Endnotes:

[14] Former US Vice-President Dick Cheney’s second daughter, Mary Cheney, is lesbian.

[15] Lee is referring to Michael Portillo, who was secretary of state for employment 1994 – 1995 and for defence 1995 – 1997.

[16] Prime Minister of Britain from 1970 to 1974.

26 Responses to “Homosexuality excerpts from Hard Truths”


  1. 1 Poker Player 24 February 2011 at 09:59

    Ah… Vivian Balakrishnan, we know how good his judgement is…

    What I love about the LKY generation of leaders is intellectual honesty.

  2. 2 Tan Tai Wei 24 February 2011 at 12:12

    On other issues, Lee has been quick, often too quick, to lead, despite opposing social trends. His MPs were to represent his position to the constituents, and on unpopular policies ensure that they would by the next general elections be educated enough to still vote PAP.

    Why make homosexuality an exception for his leadership style? We might disagree with some other aggressive leaderships of his, but on this isue he is surely right, and conservatives ill-informed and wrong. Leaders have the obligation to lead and educate. No lesser an issue than the moral rights of our presently ostracised fellow citizens are at stake.

    • 3 Xiao Longnu 24 February 2011 at 17:49

      Obviously because gay rights don’t translate into tangible economic benefits. LKY only pushes through unpopular policies if they would bring some economic advantage (e.g. casinos). A morally bankrupt person like him would never champion a cause simply because it was morally right to do so.

      • 4 L 25 February 2011 at 00:19

        On the contrary MM Lee has “considered about the benefits” of being more inclusive towards homosexuality, even if there have been no outright policies that specifically give homosexuals more fair treatment.

        http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/04/24/us-singapore-lee-idUSSP5349120070424

        What I find noteworthy is that MM Lee seems rather nonchalant on homosexuality (as opposed to other topics where he is very opinionated). He implies that it is Singapore society that is conservative towards the issue. But can that be ascertained? Or is he making an assumption here by virtue of, perhaps, a relatively vocal and public Christian presence?

        As for the genetic determinism of homosexuality, it can also be argued that genetics predisposes one to a certain sexual orientation while subsequent socialization in life would slowly “confirm” it.

        As for whether a lesbian couple makes for better parents than a gay couple, I guess it would be his generalization that females “have a more nurturing” character. Besides when one considers that it is still women who control more of the household realm than men and coupled with the fact that women have more educational and occupational mobility than before, a lesbian couple might be able to interchange the roles of breadwinner and caregiver amongst themselves rather well.

  3. 5 yawningbread 24 February 2011 at 14:02

    Poker Player — and in politics, it is short hop between lack of intellectual honesty and lack of honesty generally.

  4. 6 wikigam 24 February 2011 at 16:35

    quote :”….But two men adopting a boy or a girl, what’s the point of it? ”

    Point 1 :Equality Men right regardless sex orientation.

    If a single gay will not take care well a child , How about a ex-gay married man ? or a divorce men on taking car their child . how about a bisexual married man ? . we can’t judge a ability of men’s fatherhood just by their sexual orientation.

  5. 7 Alan Wong 24 February 2011 at 21:15

    Christians happen to be at odds with gay people. But yet there are so many gays who happen to be Christians.

    Married men also happen to be at odds with gays. Yet there are so many married men who happens to be gay.

    Isn’t this a funny world ?

  6. 8 Anders 24 February 2011 at 23:12

    The funny (or maybe not so funny) thing that strikes me is that while LKY says that there’s no point to push against “the prevailing sentiment”, he is still far more progressive than his lackeys who, by their actions, are actively fighting to keep the prevailing sentiment (if there is such). A government fighting the tide against tolerance and enshrining prejudice in law – what sense does that make?

    • 9 Poker Player 25 February 2011 at 12:16

      The tide in Singapore is towards Christian fundamentalism. Not in the sense of rising percentages (but there is a little of that too) but in them taking over our governing institutions and their increasing numbers among the well to do. Couple that with the fact local Asian culture does not predispose them to live and let live or feel very strongly about fairness for all, you get “the prevailing sentiment”.

      • 10 Anders 27 February 2011 at 03:25

        From what I have seen there is also a prevailing sentiment against Indians here, but of course nobody argues that the government should enshrine this prejudice in law, restrict movies that promote an Indian lifestyle and silence teachers that speak out against Indians being bullied. It is truly absurd and senseless that the government does all this against homosexuals under the pretext that they must reflect public opinion.

        It’s not even a matter of not fighting against the prevailing sentiment. Even if you don’t want to take the fight which seems to be LKY’s position, at least you could just sit and watch as tolerance evolves, but by censorship and restrictions they are actively fighting against the natural evolution of tolerance in a modern society.

      • 11 Poker Player 1 March 2011 at 10:47

        Anders’s point is missing history. Our anti-gay laws are inherited – so one “justification” is to point with somebody else’s finger. The Brits never passed down to us laws against Indians.

  7. 12 Magi 25 February 2011 at 02:28

    The wrong Lawrence is referred to. My goodness.

  8. 13 cyrilchua@hotmail.com 25 February 2011 at 18:16

    Hi

    I think it was T E Lawrence and not D H Lawrence.

    Cyril

  9. 14 Tan Tai Wei 25 February 2011 at 23:31

    L seems to mean that even if genes determine homosexuality, they might only “predispose” people to it, and people need not be gay unless subsequently so socialised.

    I was born with distaste for pork, and I needed no socialising to confirm that disgust. Indeed I had been contra-socialised; everyone in my big family loved pork and when I was only three they pushed a piece into my mouth promising how sweet it was going to taste. I immediately vomited out.

    • 15 Anonymous 26 February 2011 at 10:28

      Let me say some more on L’s interesting suggestion. His point that genetic inheritance is not sufficient, without socialiation, for homosexuality seems refuted by common experience. This has been mostly a minority sex preference, so occurring mostly despite socialising to the contrary. Happens within the most conservative, say Christian family, where one grows up having to keep it a secret to family and church.

      L’s point might, however, be the case with, say bi-sexuals, where socialising might help determine that the “normal” preference be actualised.

      • 16 Maybe 27 February 2011 at 02:56

        I think what L was trying to allude to is that homosexuality itself is a social construct and hence, socialization is needed for someone to truly “know” whether one is homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual. In another manner, socialization is needed as an expression and a fulfillment of homosexuality.

        Although homosexuality is a minority sex preference, it is still a fact that everyone meets other males and females. In this regard, homosexuality can be said to be a relational concept; attraction to a member of the same gender, regardless of whether that member responds favorably or even at all. For example, one may become more aware of one’s homosexuality by becoming attracted to pictures of the same gender in magazines or on TV.

        Thus, the meat example by Tan Tai Wei may not be analogous to homosexuality because it is a physical construct, not a social construct. It is physical in a sense that one does not need to interact with people in any manner (not even having to look at people in magazines or TV) to relate to it.

  10. 17 Ian 26 February 2011 at 00:05

    “…we cross the bridge when we come to it. We haven’t come to that bridge yet.”

    The reason why we haven’t come to that bridge would be because the leaders keeps trying to stop us, if we don’t move forward, we will never reach the bridge even if the world pushing us forward, it is not going to be enough.

    The world is moving towards the bridge, so, why wait?

  11. 18 wikigam 26 February 2011 at 12:26

    To : Tan Tai Wei

    1)In biology term , “Left handed” also due to gence . Will you apply your “concept” on them ?
    if no , why ?

    2)since that they are ” born in this way’ due to gence, what is the reasons of enforce them to change by law?

    • 19 Tan Tai Wei 26 February 2011 at 23:37

      You are right that we try to train left-handed persons from very young to use their right hand, just as even right-handed persons might also train to use their left hand should, say, they permanently lose the use of their right through injury, etc.

      This does not mean that we alter their genetic orientation. They remain left-handed, only that they become also proficient with their left.

      Genes determine that left-handed persons can also use their left, even though not as easily. But the homosexual, not the bi-sexual, just cannot be heterosexual, not even inefficiently so.

  12. 20 Robert L 27 February 2011 at 08:17

    Yawningbread and all the commentators here have shied away from an obvious point.

    When someone holds immense power, why do you expect him to give it up?

    There can be no doubt that our country’s Internal Security hold vast amount of information on those who are gay in secret. Not ordinary people of course, but people who are important or who are enemies of the regime.

    Seen in this light, it is futile to wonder why the ruling party is making all kinds of lame excuses not to weaken the laws, even when they know the laws are wrong.

  13. 21 wikigam 28 February 2011 at 14:20

    To : Tan Tai Wei

    1) I disagree your view to enforce training a left-handed kid to be right-handed kid. Because you cann’t changes their biological brain to give ( call) instruaction to thier leftt-hand to take things. Your enforcement just make the kids feel “sin’ to be use left hand , this is mental abuse to the kids. what do you think ?

    • 22 Tan Tai Wei 1 March 2011 at 09:05

      Depends on how it’s done and for what purpose? Don’t try to change what you can’t in any case, ie. what genes determine absolutely. Just do where you can, in order that the child can adapt somewhat in a mainly “righthanded” social setting? Like also being able to handle equipments made for the majority of people?

  14. 23 yinbin 1 March 2011 at 03:00

    I disagree with his perception that homosexuality is “already accepted in China”. China is in my opinion no less homophobic than Singapore, even though it is an atheist country. The instinct to discriminate against a different sub-group in society is part of the human genes, I think. But evolved humans need to overcome that instinct, and that takes, most importantly of all, education. Education opens people’s minds and enables them to see from the perspectives of other people, which is an important basis for overcoming discrimination. Of course, another important factor is religion. It has to go away. Education might improve the level of a person’s thinking, enabling him to be open-minded. But religion has the effect of un-doing the benefits of education.

    • 24 Tan Tai Wei 1 March 2011 at 11:03

      Religion need not “go away” in order for intelligent change. There can also be “religious education”. Take Christianity. Those self-acclaimed “orthodox Christians” should ask if they have really understood their Scriptures when they so readily say “the Bible is clear that homosexuality is sin”. They should research such issues as the following.

      1. In Deuteronomy, in the Old Testament, is recorded certain “rules of holiness” for the “chosen ones to follow” where what we now call “homosexuality” among males was prohibited. But did they mean our notion of homosexuality? The prohibition was against domination of one of another amongst “people of God” called to be holy. And the penetration of one into another in male homosexuality signified the domination of the penetrator. Indeed, when Yahweh, the “Lord of Host” led them to subjucate other peoples, such “penetration” was apparently alright in effecting the subjection of the conquered.

      2. In the New Testament, in the letter to the Romans, where St Paul seems to accuse those who “did what was unseemly between man and man, departing from the norm of sex”, we may ask also, what he really had in mind. It was lawful and common practice in Roman society for masters to have sexual relations with their youthful apprentices, and for pupils to so submit as expression of docility. Now, this relationship could be and was often abused, masters keeping their wards long after pupilages. That was the unseemingliness and unnaturalness Paul had in mind to prohibit. Indeed, Paul, in the very same letter to the Romans, seemed to endorse that lawful master-pupil relation where he said that we should submit to the authority and laws of the state, as they were instituted by God to reward the good and punish the evil.

      At all events, the “Bible” in those contexts is saying nothing about our issue at hand, ie. two same sex persons wanting to commit one with another as life partners in a faithful relationship, like heterosexuals in a vowed marriage.

  15. 25 wikigam 1 March 2011 at 10:39

    To : Tan Tai Wei

    Please clarify , what is you position ? why your religion disallow same sex marriage ?

  16. 26 Tan Tai Wei 1 March 2011 at 15:27

    I should add that even should “the Bible” really prohibit what we now mean by homosexuality, we still should take into account the stage and truth-status of factual understanding that determined the application of moral judgements of people of old. Where it was assumed that people became homosexual out of free choice, then it was arguable that their moral obligations required that they chose in a manner conducive, say to the general good, ie. the heterosexual path.

    But if, as it’s unquestionable today, that most homosexuals can’t choose to be otherwise, then we have to make our moral judgements afresh. For the fundamental Blblical injunction to “to live justly and love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God” will need to be practiced in the light of our understanding of our social situation.

    And we may have to conclude that it is unjust, leave alone unmerciful, to blame orientations people can’t be responsible for; indeed we may have to, other than being just, be loving and merciful by allowing homosexuals to find sexual fulfilment, like we do for heterosexuals.


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