By Benjamin Cheah
The ‘silent majority’ has finally spoken. Its representative is ‘The Majority’, a group that intends to prevent the repeal of Section 377A.
The Majority argues that the retention of Section 377A is necessary, to preserve moral values.
It is a reaction to the ongoing efforts to abolish Section 377A; therefore, the burden of proof is on the Majority to show why Section 377A must be retained, and its arguments must prove superior to the ones cited by the abolishment movement.
Yet, when held up to the light of critical analysis, the Majority’s case falls apart. It is a meshwork of logical fallacies, underpinned by a single nonexistent argument: repealing S377A is somehow in the interests of the majority.
For the purposes of this essay, I shall refer to the material at www.keep377a.com, and approach each section as it appears.
The first fallacy
The first fallacy is the bandwagon fallacy. This can be seen in the statistics the site quotes. That statistic is from a Nanyang Technological University study, which states that nearly 70% of Singaporeans have ‘expressed negative attitudes’ towards the homosexual community. This, then, is the ‘majority’ the Majority appeals to, and the ‘majority’ it gets its name from. This is wrapped up in a series of fallacies, which I shall examine in sequence.
The first is appeal to belief. These statistics suggest that the majority of the people believe that there is something wrong about homosexuality, expressing it as ‘negative attitudes’. Thus, this moral conservatism is justified. Therefore, Section 377A must be preserved to maintain such moralities.
This is a fallacy, because popular belief does not lead to something being right or wrong. It merely means that so many people, in this case, expressing ‘negative attitudes’ towards homosexuality. Popular support does not strengthen or undermine an argument, because the argument in itself is not analyzed. The Majority has not analyzed the arguments behind abolishing Section 377A; using statistics as a bludgeon cannot logically scratch that case.
Moral high ground
The Majority has claimed the moral high ground, through the use of statistics. Common moral values do not support an argument, as ‘morality’ is not objective or logical.
Consider this example: many people view prostitution as immoral, yet prostitution is legalized in many countries, including Singapore, Denmark and Australia. This is because such an act would, among other things, ensure the protection of prostitutes by exposing their trade to the light, making it more difficult for unscrupulous pimps and gangsters to operate, and offering ways of legal redress for victimised prostitutes.
The protection of prostitutes from harm is rooted in reality, because of the tangible benefits of reducing the exploitation of women and men, and therefore injury of whatever sort. The claim that prostitution is seen as immoral, and is not supported by the majority, does not affect this one iota, because it does not address the issue.
In the same vein, claiming that homosexuality is immoral does not address the fact that a portion of the population is facing discrimination under Section 377A, simply for not having the same sexual orientation as anyone else. The Majority needs to present concrete arguments to keep S377A, but it has not.
Statistics in and of themselves cannot be projected to mean something. Saying that 70% of people do not approve of homosexuality simply means that 70% of the people do not approve of homosexuality. It does not follow that it must mean Section 377A must be retained.
It is like saying that God must exist, because 90% of Americans believe in God. God can only possibly exist if He were proven to exist; He cannot be brought into existence just because so many people think so. For that matter, statistics cannot be indicative of the population, because they do not cover everybody.
NTU’s survey tried to simulate the population of Singapore, but it only covers 1000 people, which is 0.025% of the population of Singapore. It is little more than an incomplete picture of society, which is then extrapolated to mean that everybody possesses the same properties of the statistical sample. This, clearly, is illogical.
This brings me to the second logical fallacy: the hasty generalisation. This means that the sample size of any given survey is too small to represent the whole. The statistics show that 0.0175% of the population has negative sentiments towards homosexuality. Therefore, the report concludes, 70% of the entire population of Singapore must have the same characteristics.
I do not see how 0.025%, much less 0.0175%, of the people must represent the entire population.
The statistics simply show that 70% of 1000 people have expressed ‘negative attitudes’ towards homosexuality. That is all there is to it. Statistics should therefore not be the basis of any argument; they are, at best, supporting actors.
“Appeal to tradition”
The third logical fallacy is known as ‘appeal to tradition’. It states that as something is traditional or old, it must automatically be correct. Here, the Majority argues that the current moral values are conservative, meaning that these values are inherited from the past and are resistant to change, so the people cannot accept the abolishment of Section 377A.
It further postulates that the population is not ready for it. Conservative moral values do not matter, because they do not affect whether Section 377A needs to go. Repealing Section 377A is an act aimed against tradition; it logically extends to an act against traditional morality itself. Citing conservative morality to support the maintenance of conservative morality is not an argument.
The Majority’s argument that the people are not ready for, and cannot accept, change is flawed. It is not that the people cannot accept change, rather that the Majority would not accept it. They would not accept it, because of their moral values. It assumes and asserts that their moral values trump all others, including the principle of non-discrimination of homosexuals.
The Majority, in fact, would not even specify what ‘traditional’ and ‘conservative’ moral values are, providing no reference for their argument.
The population would never be ready for the acceptance of alternative sexualities by themselves, because they would not change their moral values so easily. They need an impetus to change, in this case knowledge of action in favour of this, before they can be ready, if ever. Repealing Section 377A is that impetus. There is no legitimate reason that the Majority cannot accept the abolishment of Section 377A, because no harm would come from the abolishment of Section 377A, which I shall move on to next.
Appeal to fear
The fourth logical fallacy is termed ad baculum, meaning ‘appeal to fear’. In this context, this can be seen in the claim that repealing Section 377A is bad, because doing so would harm our children and erode ‘wholesome family values’, and lead to all sorts of other unpleasant effects. This is illogical, because of the subjectivity and vagueness of ‘wholesome family values’, because it is implicitly designed to appeal to a personal belief that one must protect one’s children against harmful influences, and because it does not affect the argument for repealing Section 377A.
‘Wholesome family values’ are centred on the assumption that a ‘good’ family is the traditional stereotype of, among other things, two heterosexual couples, a few children, and adherence to the ‘conservative morality’ matrix. This is not ‘wholesome’; this is bigotry. It refuses to see other alternatives to this family model, like single parenting or single-sex homosexual parents, by decrying them as ‘immoral’.
It is also predicated on the belief that there is something wrong with mainstreaming the homosexual lifestyle. This is manifested in the Majority’s claim that repealing Section 377A would erode ‘family values’, without elaborating why this would be so.
It is simply an attempt to impose a pre-defined version of sexuality on the broad categories of sexuality. This leads to discrimination and oppression, because it refuses to accept that there are other versions of sexuality, such as homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality, and is used to justify actions to oppress people who exist outside this definition, like imprisonment for homosexual sex acts between men. That is evident in the existence of Section 377A.
Furthermore, there are no negative tangible consequences to begin with. The site argues that repealing Section 377A must mean that there would be “calls to specify the minimum age for consensual homosexual sex; a public education system that teaches acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle under the banner of ‘tolerance’; the redefinition of marriage to include (gay) civil unions and same-sex marriages, and to extend marriage and parenthood benefits to them; and adoption by same-sex parents”. I do not see anything negative in this.
Minimum age for consensual sex leads to the protection of minors from sexual predators through coercion or temptation, as minors are deemed as too immature to decide on consent for sexual intercourse, so it is the duty of the State to protect them from criminals.
That either or both of the parties involved happens to be homosexual is irrelevant, because sexual orientation is not the point of having a minimum age. Teaching acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle does, in fact, encourage tolerance. It encourages students to broaden their minds and accept people for who and what they are, in the field of sexuality, thereby reducing the social stigma of having a different sexual orientation and any justification of oppression based on sexual bigotry.
The redefinition of marriage and the extension of benefits is simply a logical extension of the recognition that sexuality, and therefore love, exists in separate categories, and not in binary opposition between heterosexuality and homosexuality. It sends a message that the State is recognizing such people as citizens, with the right to marriage, regardless of sexuality, because marriage is essentially a commitment to human beings to love and support each other for their lives. Sexuality is a side issue.
Adoption by same-sex parents poses no harm, because there is no documented proof that doing so leads to significant deficiencies. The issue behind adoption is not same-sex parents, but simply parenthood. If the adoptive parents are loving and caring, then one can reasonably expect the child to fare better than if the child were to live under abusive foster parents, regardless of sex. If this were the end result of mainstreaming the homosexual lifestyle, then there is all the more reason to push for it.
The end result of the above consequences, the Majority argues, is “the modification of core family values and the family unit as we know it”. This argument is founded on the belief that traditional moral values are superior, and should be therefore upheld, never mind that there is no justification of it to begin with. There are no moral phenomena, only moral judgments.
The above-described effect merely signals a change in moral judgment, and therefore moral values, with no further effects. This is, again, an appeal to tradition, in addition to this appeal to fear. The burden of proof is on the Majority to show why there is something wrong with this. That the Majority has not provided that burden means that it has just committed the fallacy of appealing to fear.
The slippery slope
The fifth logical fallacy is the slippery slope fallacy. The Majority argues that repealing Section 377A would automatically lead to the above-mentioned changes. I have already dealt with those changes; so I shall deal with this assumption.
Repealing Section 377A does not automatically lead to so many actions. They require a push from the gay rights movement, and ultimately a Parliamentary decision, before this can happen in Singapore. Each step is linked to each other, insofar as they are about the same issue, but occur independently: the repeal of Section 377A does not automatically lead to so many things happening, or even just one of them occurring.
An agent must first take action; removing that agent would stop the action. It is akin to saying that allowing bar-top dancing would lead to jealousy and then assaults, never mind that you need a jealous boyfriend or man who may not be around, and who is aggressive and foolhardy enough to start a fight. Even if the slippery slope fallacy were an argument, then it is an argument in favour of repealing S377A, because it is the first step to the positive effects I have described above.
The sixth logical fallacy is false causation. The Majority states, “S377A is a reflection of the sentiments of the majority of society”. This is not true. Section 377 was implemented in Singapore in 1872 by the British colonial administration. Section 377A, in particular, was implemented in 1938. Both sections were absorbed into the Singapore Penal Code in 1955 unchanged. If it were a reflection of something, it is the reflection of the sentiments of the British colonial masters.
The laws were written by the British, and implemented by the British colonial powers. It was absorbed into the Penal Code while Singapore was still a British colony, and under the influence of the British.
S377A is not a reflection of the majority of society; therefore, the Singaporean people’s opinions on homosexuality did not lead to the implementation of S377A. It merely agrees with the so-called majority view. This ‘reason’, then, is clearly not a reason. Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, Section 377A must actually be repealed. Section 377A was a reflection of British opinion at that time. From 1967 to 2003, the British took measures to liberalise their sexual offences laws, culminating in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which is gender-neutral. The British have let go of this bigotry; since S377A was a reflection of British opinion, then by the Majority’s logic, S377A should go.
The “Straw Man”
The seventh logical fallacy is the straw man fallacy. The Majority insists, “Sexual preference is not about civil rights and has nothing to do with equality or tolerance.” It implicitly argues that the whole issue is simply about mainstreaming the homosexual lifestyle. The Majority has, in that one sentence, dismissed the arguments put forth for the repeal of Section 377A.
Section 377A justifies discrimination and intolerance of homosexuals, among others, based on a morality that is being overturned. There exists no reason to lawfully punish people just because they are attracted to the same sex. Repealing S377A returns to homosexuals the right to non-discrimination on any grounds, and is the first step to acceptance and tolerance of homosexuals as citizens and human beings.
The Majority does not see that, instead framing it as a matter of ‘mainstreaming the homosexual lifestyle’, which clearly has no relevance to the real issues behind repealing S377A. Further, S377A does not merely affect male homosexuals. It affects male bisexuals as well; who are people who are attracted to members of the same sex, and who just happen to be male. In essence, S377A proscribes punishment for any male who has sex with another man, which is how bisexuals may choose to have sex. Again, the Majority has distorted the issue, and calls that distortion an argument.
Deep-rooted moral and sexual bigotry
These seven logical fallacies conceal a deep-rooted moral and sexual bigotry. From analysis of the above, it can be inferred that the Majority refuses to see that ‘conservative morals’ are simply personal subjective beliefs that no man or state has the right to impose on another.
It does not see that majority conservative moral opinion alone has no impact on something concerning equality and tolerance. It has provided no conclusive arguments to support the status quo, apart from saying that the status quo is the status quo, and something inarticulately horrible would happen if it were changed.
It refuses to acknowledge that sexuality is not a binary opposition of heterosexuality and homosexuality, with a logocentrism favouring the former. It cannot see that sexuality is merely a blanket term describing categories of sexual behaviour, which can only be broadly covered in the words ‘homosexuality’, ‘bisexuality’, ‘heterosexuality’, and ‘asexuality’, each with markedly different sexual preferences.
Instead, the Majority has coated over ‘sexuality’ and insists on imposing its simplistic view of sexuality on the people, through calling for the retention of Section 377A. The Majority, most of all, does not seem to accept that other interpretations of morality and sexuality exist, instead insisting that its view must be the right one. It argues that Section 377A must be preserved for the future of their children and country, yet the only real reason that they support S377A is because it preserves and justifies their logocentrism.
This is not morality; this is bigotry.
The Majority opinion has fallen. Outside its bigotry, it never had a real reason to oppose the repeal of Section 377A. Therefore, I see no reason to support its cause.