Gay couples mess up tidy little beliefs

Are postings on Facebook considered public or private? Probably somewhere in between, and if that’s the case then I shouldn’t name the person who described this little incident, beyond his initials DC. He wrote:

Our [member of parliament] Dr. Lily Neo came by our place this evening during a [People’s Action Party] walkabout. When she asked how my hubby and I were related, hubby said “We are partners”. Then came a slight pause and she politely asked us to join the [Residents’ Committee’s] Facebook page and left under a cloud of confusion.

[words in square brackets] expanded from original initials by Yawning Bread

That’s the risk that election candidates face when they go on house-to-house visits. You run into people that your party has vilified.

Readers who cheer on opposition parties should not gloat. After stirring up all that anti-foreigner sentiment, opposition party candidates should beware:

1. Meeting a resident and voter, reminding him how foreigners are “stealing” Singaporeans’ jobs. His wife comes out of the kitchen to say ‘hello’, but it is quickly obvious that she speaks with a mainland Chinese accent.

2. Meeting a small business owner with a shop in the town centre and bringing up the topic of how the government isn’t helping small businesses like his. He agrees, mentioning as a specific example the latest hike in levies for foreign employees squeezing his bottom line. Yet without foreigners his business will collapse overnight, he says.

* * * * *

From EL on Facebook, an obituary notice seen in the Straits Times:

This one apparently was a tragic case, but that’s not why EL thought it worth highlighting. The thing that caught her eye was the way the family recognised the deceased’s partner, naming her in the notice.

* * * * *

On a happier note, JC posted onto Facebook a little note about what happened at her brother’s wedding reception. The family was called together for a photograph, for which JC’s partner was also asked to join. They saw her as a member of the family.

Oh yes, Law Minister K Shanmugam was present at the reception too, I suppose in his personal capacity.

In Singapore, like many societies, there is a gap between political rhetoric that leans to conservative self-righteousness, often pandering to the most ignorant and closed-minded religionists, and the social reality wherein family and friends extend their love and recognition with little hesitation.

* * * * *

If Lily Neo had been quick-thinking, she might have parrotted her party line on the gay issue. The standard squawk goes like this: “Singapore is a conservative society and so Section 377A is there to signal mainstream values. However, in all other ways, we do not discriminate against gay people.”

Don’t believe it. Facts that stand in the way of truth are conveniently ignored.

Yahoo News reported on 23 March 2011 that two Thais were fined S$1,000 after being caught in a sexually-compromising position in a public park. Construction worker Ngernthaisong Pichet, 36, and his girlfriend, Phloetphao Somphan, 35 — who was in Singapore on a social visit pass — were caught stark naked in the bushes by an auxiliary policemen at around 11 p.m. in the Beach Road area.

The news report said the couple pleaded guilty to committing “an obscene act in public”. They could have been jailed up to three months and/or be fined.

From this description of the offence and the maximum penalties, it is obvious that they were charged under Section 294 of the Penal Code which is exactly the same law used to prosecute two men recently (after reducing charges from Section 377A) who had been caught in a shopping centre toilet (with door closed). See the details of that case as reported in The 377A hide-and-seek.

Fair enough, you might say.

Except that the two men were fined S$3,000 each. Why is a homosexual couple fined three times what a heterosexual couple is fined?

18 Responses to “Gay couples mess up tidy little beliefs”

  1. 1 Poker Player 28 March 2011 at 16:15

    “Yet without foreigners his business will collapse overnight, he says.”

    Among “developed” nations, this problem seems to be unique to Singapore. In Australia, shop assistants and even construction workers(!) are mostly native born. What is happening is that Singapore wants to maintain people working in certain vocations at third world wages.

  2. 2 Gard 28 March 2011 at 17:56

    1) Since 377A is still in force, Dr Neo walked into a den of crime and sin. What would you do if you walked into a pedophile’s home (with the children playing in the bedroom) or meth-lab (with delicious aroma brewing) or a location suspected of criminal activities, regardless of your beliefs?

    2) There is a difference between slowing down the influx of foreigners and being anti-foreigners. This is an important distinction to judge the intellectual competence of the opposition candidate. All politicans should apply the rule “Seek to Understand First”.

    3) Is it because the two local homosexuals are more able to pay the higher fine than the Thai construction worker, since the punishment has to be an effective deterrant against repeated acts in the future?

    • 3 Terence 29 March 2011 at 02:21

      Thanks Gard, you have articulated the precise reason why 377A should be abolished. It continues to impose a stigma on gay people, allowing bigots to discriminate against them with the excuse that they are “criminals”.

      • 4 Gard 29 March 2011 at 13:16

        1) No, I did not say that. Put it another way, even if the opposition wins the majority and motions to legalize marijuana and failed, the law must be upheld regardless of the politicans’ belief, because a democracy should be about the rule of law, not the rule of men, and we do expect public officers to uphold the rule of law.

        2) Financial punishment has an economic dimension. Another case to ponder: nude walk in Holland Village versus baring of breasts in Duxton Road. Read about them and consider the difference in the fines.

        I am not arguing that there is no discrimination. But to blame it totally on discrimination requires more robust proof.

      • 5 Terence 29 March 2011 at 13:59

        That’s exactly what you were trying to say, Gard. You asked rhetorically, “What would you do if you walked into… a location suspected of criminal activities, regardless of your beliefs”?

        In other words, you were justifying disapproval for homosexuality on the basis that it is a crime. Were it not a crime, you would not be able to hide behind the “criminal activity” excuse and would have to come right out with whatever personal beliefs you hold. Then your personal beliefs would have to be evaluated and debated over, and people can decide whether they are persuasive.

        As it stands, however, people can cop out of such a debate by saying, “Oh, but it is a crime, so I am right to disapprove of it. I am just upholding the rule of law blah blah blah.” The criminal law becomes a crutch – a tool to shield your untenable beliefs from scrutiny an debate.

  3. 6 chazza boags 28 March 2011 at 20:05

    i agree with Gard on the fine. but i won’t discount alex’s suggestions.

    lovely article though. if you don’t have human decency, it doesn’t matter how “talented” you are…

    • 7 yawningbread 28 March 2011 at 23:37

      You really think that that is how sentencing works? So, in all these years past, Singaporeans convicted for misdemeanours have been fined far larger sums than migrant workers convicted for the same offences?

      I’m amazed to what lengths people will go to conjure all sorts of explanations out of thin air to explain away discrimination.

  4. 8 oldlee 28 March 2011 at 23:27

    coming from an industry where lower end staff are not paid well, I do not agree with “Poker Player”‘s statement.

    You must realise that, greed aside, everything is related. If I increase the wages of my staff, then my margin is squeezed. The company makes less money overall, and has less savings. During turbulent times, we are more likely to lay off because of the little reserves we have.

    Or, I can increase the wages of my staff. And also increase the price of my food. If I am a hawker, and my assistant wants a decent increase of 10%, I raise my food prices by 10%, do you not complain also?

    Other countries are facing the same crunch. Singapore is particular obvious because our population is increasingly educated and while we have a nation of leaders and thinkers (or wannabes), we don’t have the cleaners, the construction workers, the drivers.

    How many of the parents nowadays will be thrilled at hearing their 18 year old daughter, fresh out of school (regardless of level) is now a cleaner? Do you not rather she works in an office with a proper structure, 5 day work week, etc?

    The government does not dictate how much we pay our staff. The employers, market forces do. Pay them too low, they leave. Pay them decently, treat them well, train and offer them a career progression, they stay.

    So it is now a delicate line that the government is trying to toe with levies and quotas.

    • 9 Poker Player 28 March 2011 at 23:51

      You haven’t said anything that does not apply to Australia, US and other developed countries. In all these countries shop assistants and construction workers are mostly native born.

    • 10 Poker Player 28 March 2011 at 23:54

      “How many of the parents nowadays will be thrilled at hearing their 18 year old daughter, fresh out of school (regardless of level) is now a cleaner? Do you not rather she works in an office with a proper structure, 5 day work week, etc?”

      You think parents in the US and Australia are different? And how is this related to certain jobs being at 3rd world wage levels and others being at 1st world levels and beyond?

    • 11 Poker Player 29 March 2011 at 00:09

      The sentiments expressed by oldlee are probably widespread among “educated” Singaporeans. A Scandinavian would find the mindset callous. Speak to the average Scandinavian cab driver, you would be surprised at the level of culture – probably surpasses that of the average NUS undergrad. That is the difference between a true 1st world country and one that merely has a nice per capita GDP.

    • 12 Poker Player 29 March 2011 at 00:36

      So, finally in a nutshell. Truly civilized societies do not sacrifice the welfare of their weakest members for the comfort and convenience of their wealthiest.

      And so in response to

      “Or, I can increase the wages of my staff. And also increase the price of my food. If I am a hawker, and my assistant wants a decent increase of 10%, I raise my food prices by 10%, do you not complain also?”

      I say:

      A civilized society does not privilege the “you” in the “do you not complain also?” over the welfare of the hawker assistant. If “you” get first world wages, how is it fair that others in your community get 3rd world ones? There is such a thing as 1st world construction worker wages in fully solvent 1st world economies. But then, you need citizens with 1st world mindsets.

    • 13 Poker Player 29 March 2011 at 01:53

      “The government does not dictate how much we pay our staff. ”

      Not true.

      If you open up the street cleaning vocation to Indian workers and you don’t have minimum wage laws, you get what we have now, 3rd world wage levels.

      Now for the legal profession, not only do you strictly control foreign firm participation, you allow only graduates of NUS and a handful other universities to practice (for those too young to remember, the London External LLB was once recognized, this was something you could read in a small private school), you get specially protected 1st world pay packets.

  5. 14 Poker Player 29 March 2011 at 00:23

    “Or, I can increase the wages of my staff. And also increase the price of my food. If I am a hawker, and my assistant wants a decent increase of 10%, I raise my food prices by 10%, do you not complain also?”

    Lets translate this into starker terms. If Indonesia and other countries that supply us maids became as prosperous at us, where would maids at current wages come from? Would you not complain? We want Indonesia and other maid supplying countries to remain poor (or more exactly at least significantly poorer than us) for our convenience and comfort.

  6. 15 wikigam 29 March 2011 at 00:39

    To :chazza boags

    please do clarify that who don’t have human decency ?

  7. 16 Poker Player 29 March 2011 at 13:17

    “The government does not dictate how much we pay our staff. ”

    This is also not true for another reason. That is what foreign worker levies are for. It is minimum wage à la singapourienne. Instead of deciding the minimum a worker should GET, the government decides the minimum an employer should PAY (to guess who)!

  8. 17 oldlee 30 March 2011 at 00:28

    Thank you for assuming I am educated, I certainly hope I am. I am obviously less eloquent than you, but I will try to put my point across.

    What I am expressing is opinions of my own, observed through the many years of hiring I have. Recently, we had faced great difficulty hiring Singaporean staff for our front-line positions, even when we are offering 20% higher than the industry average for that position. What I was trying to explain was that we have raised a nation of leaders and thinkers, but were missing the workers and do-ers.

    Rather from the sidelines, I am telling exactly what is happening. I speak with many other managers from the same level, and everyone is facing the same thing. Would I not rather have someone home-grown that I can groom into a manager one day as well, someone that can stay with the company for many years and not think about perhaps one day leaving for their homeland? (This, of course, is a generalisation. We have had foreign staff with us for many years). There is simply a lack of Singaporeans who want to do menial jobs. And, frankly, menial jobs will come with lower salary, whether it’s “3rd world” or not. You cannot expect to pay a cleaner the same salary as a stock analyst. Would I like to? Perhaps, yes. But I am not an economist, and I do not know how that system works.

    What I am simply saying, from a business point of view, is the increase in wages will lead to an increase in prices. Perhaps it’s not so direct in proportion, but surely there is an impact.

    I do agree that we should not penalise the weakest for the “top-tier”. It would be good to note, then, there was an article about 6 to 12 months ago detailing the increase (or the lack of) wages for the different industries. The F&B industry with the Cleaning industry are the only 2 industries that actually had a drop in average wages. Is this due to foreign competition? Maybe.

    I can understand your analogy on “poorer” countries so we can enjoy the benefits. Every country will have its more educated citizens and the less educated citizens. While we have Filipino maids, we also have Filipinos in the top of their game, such the head of banking, etc. There are leaders in their industries from every nation.

    What would you hence propose we do? Ban all foreign workers? Raise all the wages with a minimum wage to attract Singaporeans to be cleaners and construction workers? If that would work, honestly, it would be quite eye-opening. The mechanics would need to be fine-tuned to see how the economy will react as well.

    I am sure that you are coming from a economic point of view for our citizens, rather than being xenophobic. I must say I enjoy your comments. It is always interesting to see a different mindset, and share our ideas in a respectful manner without any mud-throwing.

  9. 18 oldlee 30 March 2011 at 00:31

    One last thing – I believe that the levies are to offset the “cheaper” foreign staff so that the employers are encouraged to hire Singaporeans. In every industry you will, of course, have your black sheep. But from what I see, at least in mine, we are always trying to hire Singaporeans first. It is only when there are a lack of qualified and suitable applicants that we look elsewhere, which is sadly very often.

    To be honest, if more Singaporeans were interested, it would also raise the profile of my industry as a whole… or vice versa.

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