We love the same way you do

SINGAPORE - Yesterday, thousands gathered at Hong Lim Park for the annual Pink Dot event, celebrating the freedom to love.

Yet, Singapore is still deeply conservative. Benita Aw Yeong speaks with two homosexual couples who tied the knot even though their unions are not recognised here.

It was literally love at first sight for Mr Desmond Charles and Mr Wong Yung Onn.

The men - who are 36 and 50 respectively - caught each other's eyes when they crossed paths at a mall in Tampines six years ago.

Then strangers, they felt an "instant connection" after chatting over a cup of coffee - at Mr Wong's invitation.

Like many couples, they wanted to tie the knot after dating for some years, except that they are both men.

As same-sex marriage is neither legal nor recognised in Singapore, the couple flew to New York last June to get married.

The wedding - which cost them about US$3,000 (S$3,750) - included the cost of formal outfits, the marriage licence fee and a donation to the church they had their ceremony in.

The amount did not include air fare, food and accommodation for their two-week trip, which featured a honeymoon at the Niagara Falls.

Mr Charles, who runs Despoke Artiste Management, says the preparations and process to get his marriage registered overseas was relatively fuss-free.

But their journey to tying the knot was far from smooth.

Friends turned against Mr Wong, a business development manager, when they found out that he was gay and dating Mr Charles.

"His long-time friends, especially those from the army, said that I used a witch doctor or drugs to get him to be with me.

"I was hurt. It wasn't like I put a gun to his head to make him be with me," explains Mr Charles, who is more expressive than the reticent Mr Wong.

When Mr Wong revealed his sexuality and relationship to friends, some rejected it and requested that Mr Charles did not come along when they met up.

He felt a level of disappointment.

"Honestly speaking, being gay doesn't change my basic principles. It doesn't mean that I've changed to the point where I cannot be a good friend or reliable friend.

"I'm still the same person. I just expected them to give a listening ear, meaning you listen completely before you make any comment. "They were making comments, like 'this (being gay) wasn't who I am'," recalls Mr Wong.

While Mr Charles' family was generally accepting and open towards his relationship and sexual orientation, Mr Wong's father took some time to come around.

Eventually Mr Charles won him over by spending time with him on a fishing trip to Mersing, Malaysia.

He is heartened by the support of Mr Wong's mother, who is in her 70s.

"Before we left for New York, she gave us her blessings at the airport. She gave us a red packet and asked us to show her the photos. I'm very grateful," he says.

He maintains that there is no difference between homosexual and heterosexual relationships.

"There is no difference. Love is love. Does it really matter who you're going to love?"

Their relationship, says Mr Charles, goes through the usual ups and downs like any other relationship. But one thing is for sure, they say.

"Apart from death, I don't think there's anything that can separate us."

Religion is another difference between them - Mr Charles is Catholic and Mr Wong is Buddhist.

But they both make the effort to understand each other's religion and respect the different rituals and special feast days.

And yes, they do take part in each other's religious observances.

Reflecting on a reputation that the gay community has for being promiscuous, Mr Charles says of his own wedding vows: "Any man, whether gay or straight, who says they won't look at other people after making their vows is lying.

What is most important is staying true, being honest and communicating with your partner.

"Once you find someone you really love, the thought of cheating may cross your mind, but it is immediately replaced with the thought that you don't need to do that," he says.

We want to be recognised as family

Last year, Madam Ooi M. Y. and Mrs Ooi J. J. were married in New York.

Now they are looking at migrating to Australia because they want to be parents.

In Singapore, homosexual marriage and adoption of children by a homosexual couple is not legal.

They declined to provide their full names as Mrs Ooi, 31, operates within a relatively conservative work environment.

Madam Ooi, 47, is looking forward to having both their names on the birth certificate of their child, whom Mrs Ooi is hoping to conceive via in-vitro fertilisation.

Like typical Singaporeans, they have already begun hunting for a school for the child, even before he or she is conceived.

Madam Ooi, an English teacher at a private school, and Mrs Ooi, who works in sales, are also looking for a place to stay Down Under.

The process of migrating took more than a year to research, and involved speaking with other lesbian couples on their experiences.

They say the desire to have a child is not the only reason they want to move to another country.

Instead, the greatest motivation is to be legally recognised as a married couple and to enjoy the privileges that status accords.

"Our marriage isn't recognised here, so if one of us ends up in the intensive care unit, the other would not be able to go in because we are not recognised as each other's family," she says.

Both of them say that on the whole, their families are supportive of their relationship and marriage.

While marriage to some may just be a piece of paper, it was important to them as it meant more.

Says Mrs Ooi: "It was something to symbolise our commitment towards each other and to show that we were in a serious relationship."

Adds Madam Ooi: "You've got to have the right mindset for getting married. It's no different from a heterosexual relationship.

"You've got to make sure you have the same goals and aspirations in the long run before you enter into it."

Apart from their wedding ceremony in New York, the couple also held a traditional wedding dinner in Singapore to celebrate the union.

"We did the same as everyone else," says Madam Ooi.

Attitudes in SG

What are Singaporeans open to?

A paper released by the Institute of Policy Studies suggests that Singaporean attitudes towards gay sex, marriage and adoption remain conservative.

For the report - led by Dr Mathew Mathews and titled "Religiosity and the Management of Religious Harmony" - 3,128 respondents from a cross section of religions and those with no stated religion were asked their views on different subjects.

Overall, 78.2 per cent of Singaporeans surveyed think sex between two adults of the same sex is "almost always or always wrong", and that 72.9 per cent felt the same about gay marriage.

When it came to adoption of children by gay couples, the percentage of those against it fell to 61.1 per cent.

Figures indicate those who are against the statement

 

Almost always or always wrong

Sex with someone other than marriage partner
80.3 per cent

Sex between two adults of the same sex
78.2 per cent

Gay marriage
72.9 per cent

Pregnancy outside of marriage
72.7 per cent

Gambling
69.3 per cent

Adoption of child by gay couple
61.1 per cent

Sex before marriage
56.5 per cent

Living with a partner before marriage
44.4 per cent

Divorce
43.2 per cent

"This does seem to show that our society is still rather conservative when it comes to homosexuality. Most people still hold on to strong values on the value of the traditional form of family." - Senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, Dr Mathew Mathews


This article was first published on JUNE 29, 2014.
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