I was in Ireland on 22 May when Irish voters went to the polls to cast their votes for the ground breaking referendum to amend the constitution to legalise gay marriage. I was also in Ireland when the results, overwhelmingly and decisively in favour of equal marriage rights were announced.
As I strolled past Dublin Castle into Temple Bar, I picked up my mobile phone to take pictures of the jubilant scene to send to friends and family via Whatsapp.
As I unlocked my phone, an article popped out on my newsfeed stating that the MDA had banned a pro gay song by Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai.
It could not have been a more surreal moment for me.
Despite standing in the midst of a sea of rainbow flags celebrating the civil rights breakthrough of our generation, somewhere else in the world, the same rights are being suppressed.
Although the MDA has since clarified that the song is not banned, it has put caveats on its ability to be screened:
“In response to recent queries on the suitability of the song for broadcast, MDA advised the local broadcasters that they should not air the song and music video on channels that are freely accessed by younger viewers due to its mature content. This decision was reached after consultation with MDA’s Publications Consultative Panel, which comprises Singaporeans from a wide cross-section of society.”
However, MDA did not seem to have elaborated on what these “channels that are freely accessed by younger viewers” are. Nor has it defined what “mature content” means. Given that the song is easily accessible on Youtube, a medium that almost anyone, including the “younger viewers”, has access to and given how active the “younger viewers” are on social media where links to this song have been actively shared, I am not sure if the MDA’s stand is entirely realistic.
This vague “not banned but screening not advised” methodology works effectively like a ban when viewed in the context that:
- Gay sex remains a crime in Singapore;
- Under the MDA’s Free-to Air Television Programme Code, it states that “Music associated with drugs, alternative lifestyles (e.g. homosexuality) or the worship of the occult or the devil should not be broadcast.”; and
- Almost a year ago, the MDA had also banned the performance of another song by another Taiwanese singer, Ah Mei, in Singapore.
I can understand if the MDA is coming from the standpoint that all sexually explicit scenes are cut from prime time TV, but that is blatantly not the case in Singapore. Kissing scenes are extremely common – not just in the foreign films screened on our local channels but on our local drama serials, too. So clearly, the objection is not at the kissing per se but at who is doing the kissing.
Homosexuality may be a minority in a world that is largely heterosexual but since when is being in the minority considered something that needs to be kept under wraps? No one is being hurt if two consenting adults happen to find each other attractive.
Homosexuality is a sexual orientation. It is not a disease and it is not contagious. Most of all, it is not some sort of fringe lifestyle that is chosen by people who want to be different. Homosexuality is not a choice. It is simply a factual sexual orientation. There is therefore no logical reasoning for this irrational fear of homosexuality. What exactly is our society fearful of?
Besides, what exactly does this soft ban serve? Those who want to see it can still see it any time they want on the Internet. Those that are homosexuals will still be homosexuals whether or not they watch this video and those that have no interest in watching the video will not watch it whether or not it is screened on prime time TV.
As Stephen Fry once said, “Homosexuals are NOT interested in making other people homosexual. Homophobics ARE interested in making other people homophobic.”
The issue therefore is an irrational fear for something that leads to reactions, which create mountains out of molehills.
Our society does not need to be protected from acknowledging the existence of homosexuality and it is shameful that the MDA have taken actions that promote ignorance. Sweeping something under the carpet does not mean it does not exist. The MDA’s actions do nothing to educate the public and totally run foul of the fostering of an inclusive society.
The fact that it is legal in one more country is not what makes this revolutionary. It is the fact that Ireland is the first country to legalise gay marriage by way of amending the constitution through the popular vote that is the trail blazer. By amending the constitution, the rights of gay couples in the sanctity of marriage are enshrined and cannot be amended unless another referendum takes place. This pioneering story was immediately picked up by media outlets all over the globe and sends a clear message to not just within Ireland and the church but to the whole world where Ireland stands.
In the heat of my dismay after reading the Jolin Tsai story, I did not end up taking any pictures of the scenes of euphoria and pride that presided in Dublin that night. But one feeling endures: I was proud to be in Ireland that night.