The prime minister needs to meet real people at concerts

pic_201301_37

In Pastor ambushes Goh Chok Tong with demand to defend 377A, I said that Goh Chok Tong gave a wooden response. Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong seems determined to outdo Goh in maladroit replies.

At a forum on Monday, 28 January 2013, he was faced with a question on section 377A of the Penal Code, asked by Braema Mathi, the president of human rights group Maruah. Today newspaper reported the question, although it did not report her name.

Mr Lee was asked by a participant how the fact that the Republic is a secular country reconciles with “an old and archaic law that nearly discriminates against a whole (group) of people”.

In response, Mr Lee noted that in countries that do not criminalise homosexuality, “the struggles don’t end”. He cited the example of recent demonstrations in Paris by supporters and detractors of gay marriage.

“Why is that law on the books? Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it,” said Mr Lee, adding that he had explained his decision in 2007 to retain Section 377A.

— Today newspaper, 29 Jan 2013, Let’s agree to disagree on gay rights: PM Lee, by Tan Weizhen

He touched on the gay issue again in response to another question, this time by actress Janice Koh

Mr Lee also brought up the issue of gay rights — which has come under the spotlight again recently — in response to a question from actress Janice Koh, who is also a Nominated Member of Parliament.

Ms Koh asked whether there is space for public discussions on issues that are potentially polarising.

She noted that such discussions could help build a more resilient society.

Citing the example of gay rights, Mr Lee said: “These are not issues that we can settle one way or the other, and it’s really best for us just to leave them be, and just agree to disagree. I think that’s the way Singapore will be for a long time.”

He added that the “conservative roots” in society do not want to see the social landscape change.

— ibid.

Today reported that

Reiterating that Singapore society is not likely to come to a conclusion on gay rights, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong signalled yesterday that the status quo will remain — and his position on Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, still stands.

— ibid.

However, in the last extract, you’d notice that the newspaper didn’t say exactly what Lee’s words were, so we should read this report with care. Was the newspaper drawing its own conclusion from the above-quoted answers, or did Lee actually say that the status quo would remain?

Even if he didn’t exactly say so, the thrust of his quoted words further up (e.g. “Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it,”) suggest that such an interpretation isn’t altogether wrong.

There are many flaws in Lee’s arguments, e.g. confusing criminalisation with gay marriage, for one. However, since there are enough rebuttals out there on Facebook, I shall move on to another point I wish to make.

Lee must surely know that constitutional challenges against Section 377A of the Penal Code are before the courts. Given his position as head of government, the only responsible reply to Braema Mathi’s question should be something along the lines of “the matter is before the courts and it is the courts who decide what is the law. It is my sworn duty to uphold the law as decided by the courts.”

Instead, he gave an answer that not only shows his complete lack of political skill, but also reveals his cringing fear of the antediluvian wing of Christianity. With the answer he actually gave, he has painted himself into a corner and set himself up to be pummelled by the future should the courts rule the law to be unconstitutional. Hardly any wonder then that, on another subject, he spoke about his lack of 20/20 vision.

Others have pointed out that he should also be pummelled by the Attorney-General who had warned the public on 22 January that:

Meanwhile, we would remind all parties that statements made by members of the public would be sub judice contempt, if the statements are calculated to affect the minds of the courts hearing the case, the minds of parties who are concerned in the case itself, or if they amount to public pre-judgment of the case, and there is a real risk of prejudice.

— Attorney-General’s Chambers, press release, 22 Jan 2013. Link.

Given his political position, any statement by the prime minister in favour of one side of the debate must surely present a real risk of prejudicing the minds of the judges hearing the case. I wonder what the Attorney-General will do now?

* * * * *

Lee’s fear of the Christian rightwing was probably reignited by a recently launched campaign. Several churches reportedly got together to launch a petition against “repeal” of Section 377A. It is somewhat odd because  there is no legislative move at the current time for repeal. A constitutional court challenge is quite different from repeal. The whole petition is either misconstrued or deliberately worded in this misleading way to avoid a sub judice charge.

pic_201301_40The online petition was launched on 11 January 2013, but was abruptly closed on 22 January after the AGC issued its warning. In its closure notice, it said that by 22 January, it had garnered 11,000 signatures (click thumbnail at right).

Now, here’s the funny thing: A circulating email dated midday 21 January 2013 (about 24 hours before the petition was closed) meant to encourage people to add their names to the petition said they only had 5,797 signatures:

In 2007, there were 15,560 signatures to keep 377a. Fast forward to the 2012 [sic] petition now.  To date there are ONLY 5797 signatures to keep 377a.

[snip]

Dont be surprised if this time, the LGBTs have more numbers to remove 377a compared to conservatives.

I have seen the email, but cannot publish it here lest I accidentally reveal the source.

The conservatives’  lobbying involved more than the petition effort. There was letter writing and a request to meet Law minister K Shanmugam. The minister posted on his Facebook page that he met with a 14-member delegation from a church group named Full Gospel Business Singapore on 22 January. There may be other groups meeting him too.

pic_201301_42I also received a copy of a letter said to have been sent to Shanmugam.  For the text of the letter, see thumbnail at left.  A comment I received was that the language in the letter and the (faulty) arguments  deployed sounded very much like those one might expect from Focus on the Family and/or certain well-known Law academics.

Almost simultaneously, another reader pointed out to me the rather curious position of New Creation, a megachurch, in this whole affair. It’s not clear what this church’s position is on the new move to lobby the government — exactly which churches and pastors are involved seem to be a well-guarded secret (now why does it need to be a secret?) — but here is a lovely paradox between “good old Christian family values” and capitalism: Adam Lambert’s concert in March will be held at The Star Performing Arts Centre. The centre is managed by Rock Productions, the business arm of New Creation Church.

If you’re not familiar with who Adam Lambert is, do a websearch. Or just watch this videoclip (especially at 22 seconds) from the last concert he gave while in Singapore, on 25 September 2010:

And even as I write this, another video is circulating.  It is from a concert held in Singapore on 26 January 2013 by Taiwanese singer A-mei. The sound quality in the video isn’t good, but the eight-minute clip is there for another reason. On the big screen behind her, mixed-sex and same-sex pairs kiss; I reckon the audience was told beforehand that should the camera focus on them they were encouraged to kiss. Many sportingly did.

What you will notice however is that big cheers erupt when a same-sex couple kisses.

Perhaps Lee Hsien Loong should spend less time worrying about rightwing political Christianity and more time among real people?

33 Responses to “The prime minister needs to meet real people at concerts”


  1. 1 Sam 30 January 2013 at 00:26

    Are leaders not paid to lead? Makes you wonder what they are aid vast amounts to do.
    Also, what is going to happen when same sex married couples start turning up here from abroad? Will they be carted off to Changi? And I don’t mean the airport!

  2. 2 kampong boy 30 January 2013 at 00:35

    wow alex, you hit the nail spot on time after time, i think you must be a carpenter in your past life. it will be great to watch you in action in the parliament.

  3. 3 Timothy Lai 30 January 2013 at 01:30

    “Perhaps Lee Hsien Loong should spend less time worrying about rightwing political Christianity and more time among real people?” you mean people of rightwing political Christianity are not real people?

    While not trying to defend anyone, I fear that in your bid to prove your point about conservative Christians being discriminating that you’ve already started to discriminate them. Don’t forget that they are also real people who have the right to uphold certain views. Whether it is a “right” view or “wrong” view can be put to subjectively debated and put into different perspectives but the most important thing is to ensure we do not dehumanize anyone or it would be considered hypocritical.

    • 4 SashaQueenie 30 January 2013 at 16:58

      Yeah, the Neo Right wingers are real people. So were the Nazis.
      So were the KKK. What’s your point, Timothy Lai? Real people can also do a lot of harm, as my examples shown above illustrates clearly. So lets not continue with this game of semantics.

    • 5 ming poon 30 January 2013 at 18:58

      The state and religion are separated. No religious group should impose their belief system onto the other segments of the society. Of course, each religious group should have their right to their opinions and beliefs, including conservative christians. But their beliefs stays within their community. So, if conservative christians wants to ostracise LGBT, let them practice it but only within their community, but it should not encroach upon the larger society which may not share its beliefs.
      A PM should not pander to any one religious group. It is his public duty to ensure the just and fair thing is being applied to all segments of the society.
      Now, the right that the LGBT is asking for is the same right that the religious groups are enjoying. It is a fallacy to think they are 2 different rights, the one cancelling the other. In fact, they stem from the same right to practice and express oneself. Therefore, why should one group of humans (conservative christians) has access to that right but not another group (LGBT)? On what logical basis? Till now, the basis that the conservative christians cited are picked from their own internal belief system. To use that as the measure is arbitrary and dangerous, because then every other groups can also lay claim to their predominance over others, using that same logic.
      In defending the right of LGBT, we are also defending the rights of other groups (yes, the conservative christians as well). because no-matter how small, sidelined or unpopular a group may be, its right to expression and practice must be protected. If we do not defend the right of minority groups, then don’t be surprised that one day, our own rights will be striped off from us. Because their rights and our rights comes from the same source, and they are mutual extension of each other.

      • 6 Ben Thambiah 31 January 2013 at 12:03

        Exactly.

        Get the Church, the Mosque, the Temple, the Synagogue and what not out of the State.

        Singapore needs to be truly secular and that means secular ‘regardless of race, language or religion’.

        Singapore cannot say we are secular when it comes to religious headdresses but bent over to accommodate religions that have their issues or insecurities about sexuality. It just doesn’t make sense.

    • 7 mirax 30 January 2013 at 22:29

      Right, just like we shouldn’t be calling out rabid racists for their views, meh? How far do you bend over in being tolerant of the intolerant?

  4. 8 Worst Singaporean 30 January 2013 at 07:46

    The key question is, assuming 377A is eventually repealed/removed, does it end there? Or does it pave the path towards more gay rights such as same sex marriage and rights for gay couples to adopt children as the christian right claims it will?

    While 377A and gay marriage are different issues, they are closely related. Seems to me that PM Lee understands how these issues are connected.

    • 9 Dawn 30 January 2013 at 10:53

      The key question is, assuming the courts uphold 377A and PM leading the legislature ‘leaves it as it is’, does it end there? Or does it pave a path towards more criminalisation of gay and lesbian couples such as prohibiting them from expressing any affection to each other in public, as supporters of the law have also expressed their support for. In their quest to protect children from ‘perverse’ sights will they stop and criminalizing private acts between gay men?

      Slippery slope is a fallacy

      • 10 Worst Singaporean 31 January 2013 at 16:40

        In that case, i’m happy to support repealing 377A and end it there once and for all. Will that satisfy the LGBT community and human rights activists?

        In any conflict, if you know that what your opponent want is way more than the disputed border, it is silly to give it up and retreat to the next line of defense. Israel gave up land voluntarily in hope of peace, and what did they get in return? Rocket attacks. Tell me it ain’t so.

    • 11 Kelvin Wong 30 January 2013 at 11:21

      However, the point is still that all the fear mongering about providing equal rights to GLBT and destroying societies and families and childre have bearing nor evidences to back them. They are just that, rootless allegations. Surely more intelligent beings are able to discern facts from fiction? Also most are solely from conservatives and esp. those from the traditions of the book. Buddhists, for example, may not have the same fear and may well agree to equal rights for GLBTs.

  5. 12 eve 30 January 2013 at 08:04

    Haha… I like the part about Adam Lambert concert being held at Star Vista. Thank you.

  6. 13 Robox 30 January 2013 at 08:58

    Alex, you said, “…we should read this report with care. Was the newspaper drawing its own conclusion from the above-quoted answers, or did Lee actually say that the status quo would remain?”

    Lee hsien Loong’s exact wpords quoted in the Today report were, “[the law has] always been there and I think we just leave it,”

    I would think that that was a blatant attempt at influencing a court decision while a case is still in the courts; without a doubt, Lee Hsien Loong was sub judice.

    Then you say, “…the only responsible reply to Braema Mathi’s question should be something along the lines of “the matter is before the courts and it is the courts who decide what is the law. It is my sworn duty to uphold the law as decided by the courts…Instead, he gave an answer that not only shows his complete lack of political skill…”

    While many PAP members including Lee Hsien Loong, do in fact display their lack of political skills frequently enough that it actually defines them, I personally feel that in this matter it is more a case of inexperience.

    Sthe inexperience that I refer to are those of knowledge of the law, and a strict adherence to them along with other legal norms.

    Indeed, on so many occassions, the PAP has only demonstrated that it is quite prone to lawlessness in the strict academic definition of that word.

  7. 14 jasen 30 January 2013 at 09:39

    Stating conservative in this context is solely to preserve their own beliefs and again simply another form of proselytising. I don’t understand how acknlowledging same-sex couples among us will bring about a ‘shift’ in whatever values they think we hold and exist.

    If I’m born heterosexual, thats it. Its not going to make me start becoming homosexual if I’m simply not that.

    The really sad news is for those who try so hard to engage the world in this sort of arguement in all graveness against homosexuality, I don’t mean to insult them but sometimes, I just feel like telling them I have real serious stuff to do.. like washing the laundry or picking my nose.

  8. 15 Alan 30 January 2013 at 09:41

    Frankly the world has already changed. We still seems to be at the Stone Age where the basic rights of every LGBT person are concerned.

    If the Churches are so particularly concerned, why don’t they petition the Government to retain the law specifically for all practising Christians only ?

    The Churches should be more concerned about the fundamental rights of every GLBT who are practising Christians rather than being fakely concerned about the public at large outside its religjious jurisdiction.

  9. 16 lobo76 30 January 2013 at 14:26

    Wonder what would happen when the Indian PM says that “Law (and practices) in relation to rapes have always been there, so we just leave it there.”

  10. 17 This is Anfield 30 January 2013 at 14:35

    It seems that Christians have trouble living in a diverse society like ours. When I was in school, some of my best mates were United fans. When I was in NS, my best buddy is hard-core Arsenal. We all got along pretty ok. The point I am trying to make it is that we are all the same, so why can’t we just learn to live?

  11. 18 Xris 30 January 2013 at 15:01

    Govt has been listening. This much I have come to conclude. In my opinion, I think the problem is that they are constantly listening to the wrong voice and draw wrong conclusion. A such, it appears they are not listening. And this is one classic example that they got it wrong again. In 2007, I can hardly ‘fight’ against the christian right online, whether ST times or Reach on 377A. Forward to today, facebooking my reply is a bliss as there are less people against and more people for. And I hardly receive any rude remarks, showing that only a minority Christian right are in for this fight and not the general public as in 2007.

  12. 19 Nickk Lim 30 January 2013 at 15:26

    “Frankly the world has already changed. We still seems to be at the Stone Age where the basic rights of every LGBT person are concerned.”

    This comment is spot on. Ontario, the most populous province in Canada, has just voted 59 year old Kathleen Wynne to be their premier- the first female to hold the post and, hold your breadth, an openly gay woman and grandmother at that. Life goes on as per normal in Ontario. The people there elect politicians based on their merits and performance, not sexual orientation.

  13. 20 Saycheese 30 January 2013 at 17:36

    Rather than “his cringing fear of the antediluvian wing of Christianity”, I dare say that he shares with those Christians the same or similar view on homosexuality. And if the court rules the Law unconstitutional, what can prevent him amending the constitution and removing the judges?

    • 21 Nine 31 January 2013 at 01:14

      This is the conclusion I’ve reached as well — perhaps the simplest explanation for his views on 377A is that he himself is a homophobe.

  14. 22 James Tan 30 January 2013 at 18:43

    What happen to separation of religion and state? Non interference of the judicial branch by the executive branch of government? Thought the legislative branch only decide the issue of repeal and not anybody else never mind it’s the prime minister or the president. They do not decide the law.

  15. 23 Jack Hor 30 January 2013 at 18:54

    Alex, I am not a gay, but I would be proud if you are elected, and get a chance to speak in Parliament. I am attending New Creation Church and frequently in the past, Pastor Joseph Prince makes jokes about a “broken” wrist, complete with actions, drawing laughter from the congregation. I use to laugh too but not any more. I think his actions is condescending on the gays. As for a gay performance by Adam Lambert, I dont think it would raise an eyebrow. When Rock Auditorium was opened in 2000, there was a meditation seminar by a famous Indian Swami teaching meditation and actually conducted meditation with the entire audience. I think some churches protested but it tailed off..

  16. 24 K M Tang 30 January 2013 at 19:14

    They are too white and too righteous.

  17. 25 Tan Ah Kow 30 January 2013 at 20:39

    Lee’s argument that the law is there and society can’t find consensus on a divisive issue thus implying that the law should stand is somewhat at odds with another divisive issue – i.e gambling.

    In that case, I believe there was a law prohibiting the establishment of casino. Hey, his government, not only decriminalised but also legalised the establishment of casino despite it being a divisive issue.

  18. 26 Anon 2R8g 30 January 2013 at 20:48

    Put it this way, he is no Obama. We can collectively agreed with what LHL said that he lacks 20/20 vision in some of his policy. This is one of it. Instead of leading the country, he shows disrespect to his own citizens. Is he just and impartial PM? Yet, he keeps saying even during this National Day Speech among other that Sg is an inclusive society. Mere words with hollow concept.

    And those who are quick to say that Sg is a conservative which has deep Asian value (these excuses are so lame and dated), look no further when girls to old ladies and mothers are wearing shorts that are just too short to leave to the imagination roaming the streets of Sg, putting even the late street walkers to shame.

  19. 27 Practising 30 January 2013 at 20:49

    Adam Lambert is an entertainer, his agent may not have told him that the Star PAC operates as a church too. Maybe the Church is hoping for Adam Lambert to have a change of heart whilst performing., Might even be ‘Born Again’ that could be the reason for allowing this show. I prefer this approach, ‘there is no condemnation’ all are born sinners. We can only be ‘saved’ by a Saviour. When we cannot even save ourselves, what more to save others?

    Anyway, looking forward to see Adam’s show at the Star PAC.

  20. 28 Tan Ah Kow 30 January 2013 at 21:00

    On a technical note, I find the AG statement about comments on constitutionality of Section 377A being sub judice contempt somewhat puzzling. Technically, I am not sure how that would apply in constitutional argument.

    Firstly, the judges are only applying their judgement on a piece of law, not a person accused under law. In which case, isn’t argument about the appropriateness of the law in question part of the process? So how can presenting views about a law be considered sub judice?

    Secondly, unless I am mistaken, I believe Singapore Parliament, similar to Westminster, is sovereign and the only body that can make law. In which case, presumably, any constitutional judgement by a court has no bearing on how a law is made by parliament. At best any ruling by the courts are effectively legal advised with no enforcement. In which case, how would sub judice apply? I mean Parliament cannot be “prosecuted” for breaking laws that it makes?

    Anyway, just curious. Maybe some more legal minded people might be able to explain.

    • 29 yawningbread 30 January 2013 at 22:59

      You are using a meaning of the word “law” too narrowly to mean only Acts of Parliament. This is not the correct meaning of the word “law”. A huge chunk of law as we know it is judge-made law, i.e. laws made by courts over the years and recorded in court judgements with no reference to legislation but based on a court’s sense of justice. These previous judgements are often used as binding precedents for future similar cases. Only the apex court is not bound by precedent, and free to create new law by the application of reason.

      Parliament-made law (also known as Acts of Parliament or Legislation) overrules judge-made law if both apply to the same problem. But often, Parliament-made law contains ambiguities, or it conflicts with other Acts of Parliament, or contradicts the Constitution.

      When such instances arise, courts have an important creative role in interpreting legislation.

      In the cases now before the courts, it is argued that Section 377A contradicts parts of the Singapore Constitution, particularly Clause 12. Since the Constitution is supreme, if the court finds that Section 377A contradicts, courts will “strike down” or declare as invalid, Section 377A. At that point, Section 377A will no longer be law.

  21. 30 Knn 31 January 2013 at 06:13

    Alex has a good mind but unfortunately for the current singapore, it’s difficult for him to get elected

  22. 31 kala 31 January 2013 at 18:00

    I have always feel that LHL is sissy in behaviour.

  23. 32 GoonDoo 1 February 2013 at 14:48

    Let the conservative christians hold on to their own beliefs.. its their constitutional right.. Just as its the constitutional right of gay people to be themselves without being labelled ‘criminal’ by our statute books. The more the conservatives rant, the more ridiculous & time-warped they sound.

    There is a theory out there that the more homophobic you are, the more closeted you probably are… Pastor Khang, PM Lee.. any views on that?

  24. 33 Winking Doll 1 February 2013 at 23:23

    > exactly which churches and pastors are involved seem to be a well-guarded secret (now why does it need to be a secret?)

    FYI, I suspect one of the churches involved is Westside Anglican Church.
    http://winkingdoll.blogspot.ca/2013/01/facebook-exchange-homophobic-hate-speech.html


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