Leave theology out of public policy on homosexuality

Jason Wordie says the debate is one of legal equality, not Christian values

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 7:19am

In Hong Kong's secular, plural society based on rule of law, private religious belief is a core individual freedom. But personal religious belief merits no primacy in the formation of public policy, in particular when it conflicts with the broader principle of legal equality for all citizens. Sadly, a series of irrelevant proxy arguments have dominated discussions on a proposed official consultation towards an anti-discrimination bill for sexual minorities.

Hong Kong's fundamentalist Christian groups vehemently object to even a debate on a debate for public consultation. These assemblies would appear to have gagged this long-overdue public discussion on the spurious grounds of protecting free speech. Thus - with unintended irony - they have confounded the underlying basic principle they sought to protect.

Theological objections to homosexuality can be argued until Hell freezes over, but ultimately, this strand of discussion is completely irrelevant to the issue confronting contemporary Hong Kong society. Equality for all citizens before the law is the ultimate issue - no other.

But the current furore has nevertheless revealed a long-present elephant in Hong Kong's collective living room: the pernicious influence of fundamentalist Christian belief within the top ranks of the Hong Kong administration. Fundamentalist Christian tycoon influence on policy through strategic funding is, likewise, another seldom-discussed political reality.

As with widely alleged government-business collusion, links between private religious belief and public policy formation are nearly impossible to conclusively prove.

But a reasonable inference that some significant influence on policy has occurred over time can be drawn from certain key decisions. What else adequately explains support given by the former education and manpower bureau to the openly homophobic Society for Truth and Light to educate teachers on human rights and anti-discrimination views? Or why, in 2011, a psychiatrist affiliated with the group was hired by the government to give a talk to social workers about long-discredited pseudo-psychiatric "gay cure" practices on vulnerable teenagers?

What else explains the public-private partnership scheme that enabled the creationist, "educational" Noah's Ark theme park at Ma Wan, internationally promoted by the Hong Kong Tourism Board? These are merely some well-known examples.

In theory, private belief should not make any difference to public policy. But evidence from other jurisdictions - the US, in particular - demonstrates that Christian fundamentalists are unable to check personal beliefs at their office doors.

Likewise, regular attendees at rampantly homophobic and - yes, let's call these things for what are - hate-filled religious sermons cannot fail to be influenced by what they have heard.

In a secular society, holders of private religious belief are not empowered - whatever their official position - to impose aspects of that belief on everyone else, especially when that belief conflicts with the principle of equality for all. As with any other personal conflict of interest, public officials must declare it and recuse themselves - or be recused.

This key point escapes Hong Kong's fundamentalist Christian activists and their puppets within the administration.

Under the Basic Law, the teachings of Jesus, Mohammed, or the Buddha, or belief in the Virgin Mary or Kwan Yin (or Hello Kitty or the Cookie Monster, for that matter) are all accorded official tolerance. But these teachings, and theological interpretations based on them, must have absolutely no agency whatsoever in the formation of public policy.

And the sooner those involved in all sides of this debate accept this fundamental point, and discuss the issue of anti-discrimination legislation solely on the grounds of equity for all citizens, the faster a reasonable resolution will result.

Jason Wordie is a local historian and author. These are his personal observations