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Pushing for Equal Rights Can Never Be Socially Divisive

Pushing for Equal Rights Can Never Be Socially Divisive

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  • Opinion
Top image: SCMP / Asiaone

This is a reader submission regarding the recent statements made by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and a gay father being granted adoption by the court.

When Mr Lee said, “The Government’s policy is not to interfere with the private lives of Singaporeans, including homosexuals,” and, “LGBT persons have a place here in Singapore, and are entitled to their own private lives,” and, “not be subject to prejudice and discrimination”, this seems to be incongruous because denying the fact that the gay man is the biological father of the child and denying the child legal recognition as a child of a Singaporean is directly interfering in their private lives to the detriment of the child and the parent.

Mr Lee also said, “However, we must be mindful that a push for rights and entitlements which broader society is not ready for, or able to accept, will provoke a pushback, and can be very socially divisive”.

However, I disagree since in the same way that pushing for racial equality is not divisive, the push for equal rights is not divisive. Since when can advocating more social understanding and togetherness be divisive? In actual fact, it is those who are trying to push a wedge by lobbying the government to maintain divisions who are being divisive.

I’ve seen this first hand with various religious groups publicly abusing this type of family in their press releases.

Mr Lee also mentioned that “Access to housing will continue to be determined by prevailing criteria, in line with public policy supporting parenthood within marriage”, which means the path for MSF is clear. The MSF should accept and recognise the fact that some Singaporeans have overseas legal same-sex marriages, that these marriages are a stable and strong family unit, and therefore the policies should be changed to help support those marriages and the families they want to grow. To deny equality before the law and in social policies for same-sex marriage is ipso facto discrimination.

Mr Lee also said, “All Singaporean children, regardless of their legitimacy status, will receive Government benefits that support their growth and development, including healthcare and education benefits”, which is not entirely accurate because I know of children from LGBT families who are denied access to government benefits that support growth and development, because the government fails to give equal and fair legal recognition of those children to their parents.

The denial by the MSF of the adoption that sparked this court case is one such example of exactly how the court recognises that fact.

I also think Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza should not have asked whether the MSF will ban commercial surrogacy in Singapore. This is because surrogacy has been often misrepresented by religious groups as being “exploitation of women and commodification of children”, when it is actually generally not the case.

I will explain why.

Christopher De Souza

A surgeon uses their hands to perform work, sometimes very intimate work, yet the surgeon is not “selling their body”. A nurse often uses their arms, hands and body to help move or intimately bathe patients, yet the nurse is not “selling their body” nor are they “exploited”. Likewise for a physiotherapist, masseuse, coal miner etc. These are all examples of physical labour, of professions, or jobs that people do.

In the same way, a woman choosing, of her own free will, to exchange her physical labour and use of various body parts for a task is carrying out worka job. It is entirely irrelevant that the woman is using certain parts that are different to other parts used by other professionals, or at least it should be irrelevant. Where misrepresentation starts to creep in is because those body parts are linked to reproduction, this usually comes from old fashioned patriarchal ideas about women and their reproduction being owned as chattel by men. But we do not treat women as chattel anymore. We do not treat women as objects for reproduction anymore. We should not be objectifying women in this way. In my opinion, those that seek to misrepresent surrogacy seem to be doing precisely that kind of objectification of women.

Also, the “commodification” angle misrepresents the truth because this implies the child is a commodity, which is inaccurate since the child is not an interchangeable raw material or product. Usually, the child from surrogacy is comprised of specific genetic material from one or both parents making the child precisely the opposite of a commodity: a child unique and not generically interchangeable. I think to label children of surrogacy as “generic interchangeable raw products” would be incredibly insulting and harmful to those children, yet that is precisely what those naysayers do when they misrepresent surrogacy as “commodification”.

In addition to correcting those misrepresentations, it was a fact discovered during the court case that the MSF have previously allowed children from surrogacy to be legally recognised. I assume this must of course mean that such surrogacy arrangements have been approved by MSF since it does play a part in allowing desperate parents who have exhausted other medical means to have biological children and actually enjoy having a family. Obviously such surrogacy arrangements duly approved of would not have been “exploitation” or “commodification”.

This doesn’t mean that exploitation never happens of course, just like how certain employers will sometimes exploit people. However, it does help show that it’s not really accurate to try to claim “exploitation” or “commodification” as reasons for blanket-denying women the choice of their work.

I do not think the MSF should be paying much attention to those that misrepresent surrogacy. I also think that the request by Christopher de Souza should be denied because in my opinion, it fails to take into account the pragmatic and factual issues around the subject.

Instead, the MSF should be help to raise the quality of surrogacy by allowing it in Singapore where the welfare and contractual terms for the employment and compensation of surrogate mothers can be more closely monitored.

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Martin Piper Rice Reader