Agree on rules of public discourse

Agree on rules of public discourse
Annual Pink Dot event.

SINGAPORE - I congratulate The Straits Times for its extensive, insightful and balanced coverage of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issue.

Last Saturday's article ("Seeing red over the colour pink") laid out the complexity of culture wars looming in Singapore. Monday's editorial ("A dot, but big enough to accommodate all") was a wise call for lobbyists not to push their agendas too aggressively, and to practise tolerance and accommodation.

The lobbying is a fight to determine whose vision of society takes precedence. What and who defines societal norms? Are moral norms transcendent, or evolving like other human constructs?

Since no camp is going to back down, both sides need to agree on the rules of public discourse to remain civil.

Leaders must teach their followers how to engage their rivals without characterising the other side as diabolical or intolerant. A reductionist view without taking seriously the concerns of the opposing side is unhelpful.

LGBT activists must appreciate the warranted fear of Christians and Muslims of an aggressive gay agenda.

At the same time, religionists need to appreciate the difficulty the LGBT community has in finding acceptance. They also need to understand the place of religious convictions in the secular space, so that a religious conviction imposed on society does not become an infringement on the rights of others.

Fault lines can exist even within the ranks - churches and mosques have members who may disagree with the stance of their institutions. How can religious groups maintain fellowship when members have different opinions on the LGBT issue? Will people in the middle find themselves increasingly pressured to take sides?

The role of legislation has to be clarified. Do laws have a larger obligation to protect the sensitivities of the majority or the rights of minorities?

As groups join forces in this culture war, basic assumptions will be contested. May we do so peacefully.

Seto Hann Hoi (Dr)

This article was first published on July 4, 2014.
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