Last edited: December 31, 2004

Gays’ Letter on Oral Sex Fails to Convince MPs

Legislators advise: Drop emotional approach

Straits Times, January 26, 2004

By Soh Wen Lin and Sue-Ann Chia

An emotionally charged appeal by a gay-rights group to decriminalise homosexual oral sex, made in an open letter to all MPs, has not swayed the legislators into changing their stance.

Several among the nine MPs contacted about last week’s letter from the People Like Us activist group said society may not be ready for the group’s agenda to be pushed, and that using tactics that played on emotions could dilute the issue.

‘Such appeals from special interest groups are no surprise, but... these groups cannot push ahead of what wider society is able to support,’ said Mr Sin Boon Ann (Tampines GRC).

Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) said that as the Government opens up, individuals and groups may try to raise particular issues. But he added: ‘Those who use this avenue must respect the space of others as well.’

The group sent letters on Jan 21 to all MPs using Parliament as the mailing address. So most of those contacted yesterday had yet to read the mail. But copies were sent to the media and the letter was also posted on the group’s website.

In it, the group noted that changes being considered to the law banning oral sex between men and women appear likely to ‘leave oral sex between two persons of the same sex as a criminal offence’.

In appealing for decriminalising oral sex between gays, the group took the approach of asking MPs to consider gays who might, it suggested, be family members.

‘This does not apply to me or my family—we are all apt to say. We know our children are not gay—parents are apt to say. But the law of probability tells us some of you are going to be proven wrong,’ said the letter.

‘Supporting the continued criminalisation of homosexual sex between consenting adults is a violation of your love for your own children,’ it concluded.

Dr Teo Ho Pin (Holland-Bukit Panjang GRC) said he would regard the letter as feedback which, if constructive, would be discussed.

‘From there, the Government will have to take a position, in the interest of the whole community. As society progresses, new norms will develop. But we will still need to strike a balance and know where to draw the lines.’

But he did not think the reference to children of MPs, even if meant as an illustration, was ‘the right way to do it’. ‘Should we ask for 20 lifeguards for a swimming pool, because children drown and MPs also have children?’ he asked.

Said Mr Gan Kim Yong (Holland-Bukit Panjang GRC), who has two daughters, aged 12 and nine: ‘Its main argument is there will be some homosexuals among us and our children, given statistical averages.

‘However, I think the mere statistical presence of homosexuals among us does not make it the right thing to do and certainly does not imply fundamental shifts in societal norms.’

Added Mr S. Iswaran (West Coast GRC): ‘Using statistical probability, why stop at homosexuality? If there is a statistical probability that a certain percentage of people will be pick-pockets, that will include MPs’ children and relatives as well. So then what?’

Mr Gan also said the writers’ personal approach showed they were ‘trying to appeal to the paternal instinct of the reader rather than rational reasoning’.

Mr Alex Au, one of the letter’s three signatories, said they adopted the approach as a foil to what he described as the ‘calculative, esoteric and clinical’ arguments usually used in such debates.

‘There are going to be gays in our circle. How do we face these loved ones, and justify ourselves?’ he said.

The MPs acknowledged that as social norms evolve, such appeals should be taken in stride. As Minister of State (Community Development and Sports) Chan Soo Sen put it: ‘MPs are quite use to receiving such emotionally charged letters, it is part of democracy. As a policymaker, it is beneficial to listen to all views. It is our aim to cultivate an open political culture. But we cannot rule by consensus.’

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