Sunday, May 20, 2012

An open letter on "Same-sex union can't be labelled 'marriage' ", Straits Times, Saturday May 19, 2012, A38.

I sent off an e-mail to journalist Andy Ho yesterday in response to his editorial piece against gay marriage. I also put it on Facebook, where it's gone viral - 900 likes and 350 shares in 14 hours! I've cleaned up the typos, added some links, and scanned in Mr Ho's original article. (It's actually a fairly complex viewpoint, not vitriolically homophobic at all - well worth reading. Click the text version or the scanned version to read it.)

Dear Mr Andy Ho,

As a gay man, I'd like to thank you for sharing your views in your article "Same-sex union can't be labelled 'marriage'" printed in the Straits Times on Saturday May 19, p.A38. I truly appreciate the fact that you're standing up for civil unions, which is more than any other senior writer is doing so far.

However, I would not like to thank whichever editor was responsible for commissioning Adam Lee to print that huge anti-gay logo beside your editorial. It is offensively homophobic, almost inflammatorily so, just as a star and crescent crossed out would be anti-Muslim or a female symbol crossed out would be anti-woman. I think you'll agree that it misrepresents the fact that your article is a good deal more balanced than that.

I myself am in favour of same-sex marriage, and I'd like to two points in your article which I believe are problematic.

First, you draw on the idea of marriage being akin to a trademarked symbol, not unlike McDonald's or Yale University. It's not. It's a concept that's evolved over the years and is interpreted differently by different cultures. In the same way that "porridge" and "carrot cake" mean different things to people in Singapore and New York, "marriage" means different things to an 18th century Chinese merchant with ten stay-at-home wives and a 21st century Filipino household where husband and wife work in different countries for years on end.

Currently, our standard definition of marriage is a union two people make because they are in love and want to support each other. Children have little to do with it. And of course, sterile opposite-sex couples are allowed - almost encouraged - to adopt. Same-sex couples should also have that right, given that studies have shown they are equally good parents as their opposite-sex counterparts, if not better.

Also, remember that "gay marriage" is not an abstract concept: there are already ten countries in the world which allow same-sex marriage. Some people with these marriage certificates are living in Singapore. If you're attempting to limit the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples, you're pretty much trying to close the stable door after the horses have bolted.

Second, you claim that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples would "tarnish [the] symbolic value" of marriage. Though this statement is too abstract to be proven right or wrong, I'd like to point out that contemporary societies which have legalised same-sex marriage have seen no harm come to opposite-sex marriage in terms of climbing divorce rates. The concept may have changed, but actual people aren't suffering.

[N.B. My original post claimed there were no greater instances of abuse and no steep declines on childbirth. I can't find stats on domestic abuse, and it seems childbirth is declining in the world anyway. Still, if these were grave problems, same-sex marriage opponents would be using them in all their diatribes.]

Once again, I'd like to thank you for your support of same-sex civil unions. As you know, this year's PinkDot is on Saturday, 30 June at Hong Lim Park. I hope you'll come. I'm going to make a large sign saying "I support civil unions" so that you can hold it for everyone to see. That is the message that Singaporeans need to hear.

Yours sincerely,

Ng Yi-Sheng
Writer, reporter and educator

Mr Ho has replied graciously and says he'll be out of the country on 30 June. Several people have pointed out that arguing for same-sex marriage or civil unions is redundant until we get rid of our sodomy laws. Good point, but when you think about it, which one wins over heterosexual hearts more - two men who want to wear tuxedos or two men who want to get naked?

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