Thursday, May 24, 2007

Equal Protection, Sexual Orientation and the Homosexual "Agenda"

Been busy but have found some free time now that I've got drafts out on my Philosophy of Law paper and International Merger & Acquisition.

Anyway, Asst/P Yvonne Lee wrote the following article articulating her viewpoint about why decriminalization of homosexuality in Singapore would be an error and I think her article is pretty much logically fallacious on a number of grounds. I had her as a lecturer and thought she was decent and fairly sensible unlike the other constitutional law profs who have made their (erroneous) feelings on this matter pretty clear. As such I must say I am sorely disappointed by her views (not that she would care of course)

A/P Victor Ramraj has a response here. He makes most of the major arguments that need to be made but unlike him, I don't have space constraints.

READERS of The Straits Times have written in to question the rationale for the criminalisation of homosexual acts. It is imperative that we understand the legal and broader social implications, and that Parliament, in the forthcoming debate on the Penal Code reform, carefully considers these implications.

The Home Affairs Ministry has indicated that Section 377A of the Penal Code (S377A) will be retained. S377A prohibits the commission of gross indecency by one male person with another male person. Opinions have been expressed that S377A may be unconstitutional because it discriminates against homosexuals by criminalising homosexual sex and not oral and anal sex committed by heterosexuals or lesbians.

This is an over-simplistic reading of the equality clause.
It should be worth noting that given she was US educated and cited a US Supreme Court case upholding Affirmative Action in University Admissions, she ought to have been aware of Lawrence v. Texas as well, which struck down Texas's anti-sodomy laws as violating the 14th Amendment (Equal Protection Clause). I raise this because despite raising the constitutional issues, I believe it is her analysis that is the overly simplistic one, one governed primarily by parochial and a highly formalistic approach. As we shall come to see, she simply relies on a logical fallacy that the status quo is good in defending the legality of this homophobic piece of legislation.

Worse still, she never provides a substantiation for why we ought to discriminate between heterosexual and homosexual couples. To reframe the issue, it isn't about the right to homosexual sodomy but rather the right for consenting adults (which takes out the fucking stupid pedophilia and bestiality argument out of the water) to engage in sexual acts in the privacy of their bedroom.
FIRSTLY, the legal meaning of equality must be understood within its social context. Equality is not an absolute value. Extreme applications of equality impair community interests and violate the rights of others. Furthermore, the Constitution does not prohibit all forms of discrimination.

Like cases must be treated alike, but Parliament may enact measures which differentiate between different groups. The courts hold that such measures must satisfy two tests to be constitutionally valid: Firstly, the classification must have a rational basis. Secondly, the law must serve a legitimate purpose which is reasonably related to the basis for the classification.

Each differentiating legal measure serves a social objective. For example, a married individual with four children enjoys higher tax relief than one without children. The public good is to encourage married couples to have more babies.
True but primarily irrelevant because she never establishes how a) it is in fact in the public interest to criminalize sodomy, b) to criminalize it only for homosexuals and not heterosexuals and c) to criminalize it only for male homosexuals but not female homosexuals.

At this point, under US Equal Protection Doctrine, it fails not only the rational basis test of Lawrence v. Texas but also the anti-animus principle of Romer v. Evans.

To view the issue of S377A exclusively as a matter of equality omits the broader context - that rights can clash with other rights and community values.
Again irrelevant and begging the question.

When they do, Parliament may pass laws which reflect the public good in preference over the rights of the individual or groups.
I could make the same critique again but I want to do it on a deeper level this time. She's begging the question on a meta-systemic level in that she is asserting that the current judicial interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause is necessarily the right one and the only one at that.

I will proffer instead that the whole idea of individual freedoms is that they cannot be at the mercy of the majoritarian will. Yes, no right is absolute as she correctly points, but her balance is one that would sacrifice the individual's right on the altar of "the public good" when she has provided no grounds for doing so. Short of "because" this is currently the way the legal rational basis review test is structured.

I also want to point out what the rational basis test can stand for. It stands for discriminating on any basis the government wants to. Quotas for women in medicine? Easy, allocation of scare resources, we have statistics that show women don't stay in medicine long. Only families with more than a certain level of income may have 2 or more children. Why? Because only they would be able to afford it etc. I submit that the rational basis test simply is incapable of striking down discriminatory laws, law which would strike the majority of us as unjust.

Any argument to decriminalise homosexual sex must consider the harmful social consequences. For example, would affirming homosexual sexual practices serve the common good? It is a known medical fact that homosexual intercourse or sodomy is an inherently unhealthy act that carries higher risks of a number of sexually transmitted infections. The law should not facilitate acts which threaten public health.
1) This should then apply to heterosexual sodomy as well
2) Preventive measures can be taken
3) It proves too much: on that highly paternalistic basis, we can ban any activity that is "harmful". Smoking, alcohol, skydiving, driving, eating fast food etc.
To claim that it threats public health is scare mongering and ultimately irrelevant to the consideration here. To iterate, if it's okay for heterosexual couples, why is it not for homosexual couples.

In fact, this is a good example of a measure being both "underinclusive" (why only gay men then?) and "overinclusive" where the ends-means nexus is not particular rational much less tight (preventive measure not bloody criminalization). Of course, our rational basis test is not going to strike it down.

Moreover, any reform to the Penal Code must preserve fundamental values which serve the public good, instead of abstract notions of equality or fashion.
Assertion, begging the question, non-sequitur. I find it utterly hysterical that a Constitutional Law professor is running this argument. Article 4 of the Singapore Constitution states that any law that is inconsistent with the Constitution, is to the extent of that inconsistency, void. So major premise, Constitution trumps any normal piece of law. minor premise, the notion of equality before the law is enshrine under our Constitution (yes one could make the argument that sexual orientation is not a protected class but I want to focus on the idea that the Penal Code trumps these individual freedoms). Therefore, the "abstract notion of equality' does in fact trump the Penal Code.


Broader agenda
RECENT developments in foreign jurisdictions like Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States indicate that the move to decriminalise homosexual sex is the first step in a broader homosexual rights agenda to transform social morality:
It becomes clear at this stage, her arguments boils down to homosexual sodomy is icky and somehow morally wrong, despite never proving this particular point. I understand that in her exchange with Mr. Selby she takes offense to a great many things that he says. But not once does she actually demonstrate that she is not in fact myopic or homophobic etc.

Sorry, an accurate insult is not an ad hominen attack, Asst/P.

• If S377A is repealed, homosexual sex is legitimised, transformed from a crime into an 'alternative lifestyle'.
So what? Unless the right of consenting adults to engage in sexual activity in the privacy of their bedrooms is somehow wrong?! That's why I don't buy any of her arguments that she is not perpetuating an anti-homosexual agenda (see how framing and tossing terms around work? Except in my case, it's probably true).

• The minimum age for sodomy must then be specified. This opens the door for homosexual lobbyists to pursue the next step of equalising the age of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals. The current age of consent for homosexual sex in countries which have decriminalised sodomy ranges from 13 to 18, covering Singapore males from Secondary 1 to junior college.
Again so what? I can legally have sexual intercourse with a secondary school girl. This is an appeal to emotions (another logical fallacy).

• The third step is re-conceptualising homosexuality as a civil right in the name of equality. As an 'alternative lifestyle', homosexual lobbyists will seek for this to be endorsed and 'mainstreamed' into society (for example, arts, education, entertainment and media), beyond the privacy of the bedroom. The current view that 'sexual orientation' should not be a basis for discrimination is problematic. 'Sexual orientation' is a vague term covering a range of sexual expressions, including paedophilia and bestiality. Also, the assertion that one is 'born gay' is scientifically unproven.
Poisoning the well. Non-sequitur. The interesting thing is that unlike anti-gay activist here in the US, she can't use the Teflon coated slippery slope of polygamy because our legal system already sanctions it! Oops.

So what's the basis for why decriminalizing homosexual sodomy (as oppose to homosexual cunnilingus or masturbation which is legal by the way under the new Penal Code) will lead to such horrors and not the legal ones? Hmmmm now... Inquiring legal minds want to know!

Separately, so what if sexual orientation is a vague term, consenting adults, privacy of bed room. Yup that settles the problem of pedophilia or bestiality.

Whether one is "born gay" to me is an irrelevant question. One isn't born Christian or Hindu or Buddhist of Marxist etc. etc. It's a false argument. But the evidence tends to lean towards a genetic basis.

• An active homosexual agenda has engendered clashes with fundamental liberties such as free speech and religious liberty. Christian pastors have been criminally prosecuted for sermons declaring that homosexuality is a sin, a view also held by Muslims and many non-religious people who consider homosexuality unnatural and morally repugnant. Attempts have been made to extend 'hate speech' laws to the Bible and Quran.
So we smack them down if that happens. Big whoop. And besides, how is this even bad or worse than the current criminalization?

And gee, we do have something called the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act which places quite a few restrictions on what religious figures can say so that's a legitimate restriction on her so-called religious liberty there. If preaching hate from the pulpit against political figures is illegal, why not homosexuality? And if rights aren't absolute, why should the balance swing against them? So once again, begging the question.

People who oppose the homosexual agenda are branded as intolerant, bigoted, homophobes, or hateful towards homosexuals who are merely 'different'. This does not promote free speech but seeks to censor it. If this intolerance against religion is imported into multiracial and multireligious Singapore, this will breed social divisiveness.
So what? Begging the question. And because I haven't seen a rational argument against homosexuality yet, yes I will brand them as intolerant, bigoted, homophobes and hateful. Please, I readily await being proven wrong.

Besides, oh boo hoo... Being called a bad name is worse being branded a criminal, or deviant or abomination unto god or specifically immoral as her article has insinuated. And because of religious privilege, one can't strike back as effectively.

I say that beliefs should not get a free pass just because they are "religious" in nature. And separately, Muslims and Christians aren't a majority and even there are divisions as to their viewpoints on homosexuality. And last I check, Singapore was a secular state. Between hurt feelings and genuine deprivation of liberty, I think I'll pick the latter thank you.

Public good? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The claims is easier made that it is in the public good that valuable members of society ought not to subject to impermissible discrimination because of certain erroneous interpretations of some bronze age religions.
• The final step involves attempts to redefine 'marriage', the fundamental institution and bedrock of many civilisations. The redefinition is a radical reconstruction of 'marriage' - no longer a union between man and woman but includes 'same-sex marriage'. Homosexuals must then be allowed to marry someone of the same sex and be given the benefits of marriage such as tax benefits, adoption of children and/or state-funded access to alternative 'reproduction' methods.
So what? Assertions as to the nature of marriage. It so was not a bed rock in Roman Civilization. Under Roman Law, marriage (assuming it was not in manus which fell out of favour rapidly anyway) was purely consensual and divorce was simply a matter of deciding that one did not want to be in a marriage anymore. Changes to marriage and divorce occurred when Christianity became the state religion. As long as we're engaging in post hoc fallacies, we can also say that Christianity caused the downfall of the Roman Empire because its adoption preceded it.

And oh, the real fundamental basis of marriage and bedrock principle was that women were chattel and wives a extension of their husbands (under a Roman manus marriage, wives were consider children to their husband which explains their massive unpopularity and disuse). So what exactly is she arguing about here?

The argument that decriminalising homosexual sex will not cause a change in moral attitudes is erroneous. It has been suggested that even after adultery was decriminalised, it remained morally reprehensible. So too, decriminalising homosexual sex will not cause a shift in moral attitudes.
So what? Actually I would up the case of Plessy v. Furgeson where the US Supreme Court held that "separate but equal" did not harm the Blacks because any notions of inferiority was simply self-inflicted. The law does have normative force. The US Supreme Court eventually had to make a massive mea culpa in Brown v. Board of Education and reject this doctrine because they were proven wrong empirically and recognized that if the law says you're different or deviant, people actually buy that.

While the law embodies a moral judgment, it is not always prudent for the law to punish all immoral behaviour. However, to draw an analogy between adulterers and homosexuals is fallacious. Adulterers do not seek societal approval, but certain homosexual activists campaign to alter the public mindset and to gain legal and social endorsement of the gay lifestyle.
Non-sequitur. Firstly, presumes that the law should ban some and not all immoral behavior, I would love to see where she can logically draw that line. Second, begging the question that homosexuality is immoral. Third, my moral views on adultery can be grounded on non-religious grounds. I challenge anyone trying to do so for homosexuality on non-religious grounds.

The fact is, under the proposed Penal Code reform, homosexuals wishing to lead private lives may do so, provided they do not foist their homosexual acts on the public.
This very neatly exposes her real agenda. The only explanation left for her argument is that she opposes homosexuality.

Back to US Constitutional law, the Court should not (especially under Equal Protection Doctrine) give succour to private prejudices, Palmore v. Sidoti, where the Supreme Court reversed a decision to give custody of the child to the father because the mother had married outside of her race to a Black man.

So why have this special provision which signals out homosexuals and only male homosexuals at all?!! We already have public indecency laws. Sorry ma'am, you can't have you cake and try to eat it. Now the article is just incoherent.

S377A is a legitimate statement of the values of our society. In constitutional terms, equality claims operate within a broader social context.
Assertion. Begging the question. Legitimate in the eyes of the law perhaps. But hardly moral. In fact if you're a Natural Lawyer, Lex Injusta non Est Lex, An Unjust Law Is Not Law. So even if the Constitution does not prohibit it, Natural Law does.

Homosexuality is offensive to the majority of citizens. Allowing an aggressive homosexual rights agenda to dictate law reform ignores the nature of Singapore's multireligious, multiracial community. Such an agenda would be divisive. Therefore, the attention given to fundamental moral values of the majority of citizens by retaining S377A in its entirety strikes the right balance.
Assertion. Prove it.

So is adultery, so is the marital rape exemption which is finally going to be repealed. Using phrases like "aggressive homosexual rights agenda" just marks you out as a religious conservative right wing fundy using the same old repeatedly debunked talking points.

This has been a monumentally wrongheaded and badly written piece. I am always very happy to stand by what I say and always remain ready to defend them.

Addendum: Here is a philosopher's take (Editor of Royal Institute of Philosophy Journal Think) on the common arguments against homosexuality. It's a marvelous taking apart and a great read to boot.

Addendum 2: I realize that not all of us have such a distinct lack of life as to read up obsessively about logical fallacies and/or debaters. So I have included links that explain some of the terms I have used.

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At 12:54 PM, Blogger gambitch said...

Good stuff, bro. Still in the swing of things, I see.

Are you back in town already, or are you due back soon?

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Shaun Lee said...

Hey thanks!

Not yet back. Finals in two weeks. Will be back at the start of July. Hope to meet up with you then.


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