By Henry Zhang
In the vociferous debate raging on over 377a, lines have been drawn between the recognition of gay rights and what some perceive as our “Asian values” or social norms. With both sides arguing in parallel, little reconciliation has occurred.
Yet, while arguing for the most basic rights of homosexuals might be intellectually appealing, or even common sense, perhaps forward movement can only occur if we begin to truly reconcile the need for acceptance with the fundamental values of our Singaporean identity.
So what are our social norms? What are these “Asian values” we seem so intent on clinging on to? And most fundamentally, what makes us Singapore?
We are a society whose very pledge cements the principle of equality in our national consciousness. And as much as academics or constitutional law professors care to quibble about what equality means, we’ve been made to recite this very pledge verbatim at 7 in the morning when we were 7 years old. It is thus clear what equality means to us. It means that we are a society that recognizes that our value is not based on the color of our skin, or our individual faiths or our immutable identities. It means that we are a society that believes it is our diversity that makes us a community.
We are a society that’s been made to live together despite our differences, in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. We’ve been taught to accept whoever our neighbor might be, however different they might be from us. And for a large part, we have embraced that. We have moved on from a past where our differences divided. We have grown into a society that is willing to cook a pot of curry in solidarity to our neighbors when their differences are under attack. We are a society that has accepted and embraced the fact that there is room for difference in our collective identity.
We are a society that shows no room for hate and inconsideration. We very well know taking more than one seat on the MRT train is behavior worthy of condemnation. Equally, we tolerate no form of denigration towards other members of our community, be it from our religious leaders or individuals on social media. We are a society that understands no one faith or race or any other group in society can claim to be superior to another. We are a society that stands for mutual respect, and a society that knows such respect is crucial to keep us together.
Yet, we seem to have forgotten who we are as a society. We seem fine being a society where hate and intolerance can be good basis for law. We seem alright being a society where a parliamentarian can stand in the house to give a hate-laced diatribe aimed at members of own families and communities. We seem fine being a society that embraces a law that treats our friends, brothers and sons as criminals for who they are and who they choose to love.
But we should not be. And we are not. We have to stop using terms like “asian values” and social norms without understanding what they truly mean to us. We should realize that in our society, our “asian values” and social norms are not built on intolerance and hate, but on diversity and acceptance. This is who we are and it’s high time we remember. “