The ethics of sexuality.

Alright, because I’m doing some philo mod and because I’m singaporean. We love to debate. See “More parties wade into the debate over HPB sexuality FAQ“. Self-expression is always a good thing, with some moderation. Over the past few years, we have seen some issues that have caught the attention of the public, and over which we have fervently put forth our ideas, in newspapers, blogs, or even public spaces. On many occasions, I was caught in the draft and penned down some personal thoughts. I’d seldom finish these writings, not to say publish them. Perhaps I was just plain lazy, or that diplomacy is my strong suit and my writing can sometimes get a little too ‘opinionated’. Or maybe, I didn’t feel the need to share those thoughts.

Hours ago, I had wanted to go to bed early to send off my brother for his enlistment in the morning. Due to my erratic sleep cycles, I had to fiddle around with my smartphone, check out Instagram feeds as well as Facebook. Chance has it that I stumbled upon a letter submitted to MyPaper’s Opinion section, and then it struck upon me that I should be ashamed if I were to brush it off and fall asleep. By any measure, I would probably lose some sleep over the matter.

So Health Promotion Board recently published a FAQs page on “Sexuality”. Surely this has been a touchy issue, and there have been related commotions in the political and legal arena not too long ago. Our progress in the way we think about homosexuality is disheartening, and perhaps in the way we reason too. I have made a generalization, and what follows might be redundant, because I am referring to a single opinion, one that is hopefully not shared by many.

I refer to the article posted to MyPaper by Mr. Lawrence Khong, chairman of LoveSingapore, a network of churches dated 6th February, “HPB’s sexuality FAQs undermine family”.

Khong asserted that heterosexual and homosexual relationships are fundamentally different. He claimed that heterosexuality is natural and normal, for there exist an inherent compatibility between the physical tools for reproduction of Man and Woman. On the other hand, the impossibility of procreation and the absence of ‘sexual complementarity” in a homosexual relationship render it abnormal and unnatural.

First, it is dangerous to categorize behaviors or mentalities as such without knowing what it means for something to be natural. What is natural? Trees are natural, procreation is natural, but what is that innate property that makes these objects or processes ‘natural’. A plausible definition would be what is natural is what happens in nature, without human interference (let’s just assume our species impose some sort of artificiality). Going by that definition, we can easily point to animals exhibiting homosexual behavior and claim that such behavior is natural.

Leaving definitions aside, the second contention is with his assumption that sexuality is plainly determined by the physical ‘apparatus’ that we are born with. HPB’s FAQs page identifies the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. How one perceives oneself as being male or female can differ from how one feels about the same or opposite sex. Additionally, these two dimensions can also differ from the physical characteristics. For instance, I may look like a man, but I think I am a woman, yet I feel attracted to a woman. I don’t even know whether that qualifies as homosexuality! Besides, to compound the issue, these three aspects run along their own spectrum.

Khong inferred that HPB has equated homosexuality to heterosexuality (I couldn’t identity such equation; I’m that bad at math), and drew some stark conclusions. He stated that the comparison adopts a pro-homosexuality stance which violates our ethical beliefs set out by the law. The most immediate objection would be an unfounded assertion that our moral standards are dependent on the law. This draws to a grand debate of the relationship between ethics and law, and a diversity of opinions exist. I would claim that the law reflects our moral standards, both of which can and should be subject to progress. With all due respect to the divergent schools of thought on ethics, using Section 377A of the Penal Code to define where our morality stands on the issue of homosexuality is untenable.

Khong argued that “homophobia” as a word can be politically-charged as it draws upon connotations of “irrational fear, disgust, or hatred”. He explained his ethical stance against homosexuality as an “intrinsic physiological nature”, and his community remains respectful of the people who engage in “unnatural” behavior. I believe that “intrinsic physiological nature” cannot differ from our emotional faculty, which is the most probable culprit of our irrationality.

Khong has quoted some uncited medical studies to claim that homosexuality poses an eminent threat. Homosexuals die earlier, get more STDs and are generally less healthy than the “natural” population. Against this argument, I have no studies to cite but it is not difficult to hypothesize that homosexuality is only as dangerous as we allow our “intrinsic physiological nature” to exclude the individuals from society. Likewise, the persistence of moral antagonism against homosexuality may be partly, if not entirely, the obstacle to long-lasting relationships between individuals of the same sex.

While I have seemingly disputed most, if not all of the assertions put forth by Khong, I have not exactly adopted a pro-homosexuality opinion. I believe that HPB shares this stance. When we consider the motivations behind the publication of such FAQs, we should applaud HPB’s effort in striving towards a more inclusive society. Homosexuality may be “abnormal”, from a statistical perspective, perhaps unnatural too, but these two labels are not definitive of what is morally wrong. Besides, in no way is HPB making a moral judgment of homosexuality; it merely states facts that help clarify our misconceptions towards homosexuality. We should all heed this example to identify facts before jumping to moral conclusions. Certainly, it is human to make moral judgments in all irrationality, yet we need to recognize the diversity of ethical beliefs and avoid imposing one’s moral opinions onto others.

HPB can improve by including citations, for the more informed public like Mr. Khong himself, instead of making uncited claims “according to studies”. Nevertheless, the publication of such information in consideration for different individuals is a great step forward in serving our national interests. The public may not be ready to accept legal union between same-sex partners, or embrace families with parents of the same sex, but these reasons are not valid excuses to deny individuals to information and an inclusive society. In determining what society’s interests entails, the voice of the majority mustn’t be ignored, nor should the minority’s needs be neglected. Tellingly, it is a difficult balance, but given our progress thus far, we cannot afford to leave so many behind.

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