Equal love for all should not be political or politicised

September 12, 2023 09:35
Photo: Reuters

A reasonable society ought to make provisions and accommodation, such that any and all reasonable preferences, tastes, opinions, and needs, can be reflected by the way people are treated by the laws and the government. This statement seems rather intuitive. We would not want to live in a society where the state discriminates against individuals on the basis of their race, ethnicity, gender, or wealth.

Nor, indeed, is it good enough for us to have a state that treats everyone nominally equally. If I gave someone from a comfortable middle-class household $500HKD as a flat-out subsidy, that would make for a very neat brunch or lunch at a fancy restaurant. If I gave someone struggling to pay a monthly rent of $8,000HKD (which would net one a dilapidated apartment in squalid conditions in the city centre) $500HKD, this would count towards 1/16th (or little over 6%) of their monthly rent. If I gave someone dying of malaria $500HKD, that would mean very little. Life is priceless. Life cannot be bought - it can be extended artificially, but it cannot be bought on a dependable and reliable basis.

What, also, is priceless? Love. More precisely, the ability to love without undue stigma, to love with and within reason, to love without duress or coercion or social norms seeking to shoehorn one into rigidly defined categories and pigeonholes. Love that respects the boundaries of others’ rights and choices, to the point where all involved in love are consenting, voluntary adults.

Equal love, in turn, denotes our capacity to recognise that love between two fully informed and autonomous human beings, ought to be respected - irrespective of their sexual orientations or genders. This, mind you, also systemically rules out instances that critics of equal love often cite, as seemingly unpalatable reductio ad absurdum - e.g. “Would those advancing equal love, same love, also support incest?” The answer is a resounding and obvious no.

The world around us evolves. We, as a species, as a most enlightened and involved species, also evolve. In the short term, the direction of our evolution may not always be towards more morality, more ethics, or more socially defined covenants and constraints. Yet in the longer run, the arc of social development and evolution does seemingly bend towards some semblance of justice and equilibrium. The doing away with foot-binding. The abolition of slavery. The enfranchisement of African-Americans. The realisation that blind worship of leaders and ideologically frenzied sycophancy would only culminate in disaster. The recognition that love can be more than what connects a man with a woman. The awakening to the rich, illustrious, and profound history of non-heterosexuality and sexual pluralism in human history.

Equal love for all is not a political issue. Some have sought to portray it as a comprehensively Western construct. Those who insist as such would benefit from researching the following stories and terms. The ‘duanxiu’ romance between Emperor Ai and Dong Xian. The love story between Lord Longyang and a King of Wei. Homosexuality has had a long and protracted history throughout time in Chinese and Asian cultural histories at large. Embracing the right of others to be homosexual, does not equate being one yourself - just as homosexual folks can respect those who are straight/heterosexual, without themselves sharing such values.

There are some who posit that it is possible to respect ‘minorities’ without thereby granting to them the same legal treatment as we would ‘majorities’. The presupposition here is that our duty to respect minorities extends to not berating or attacking them, as opposed to making the same accommodations in the law as we would for majorities. This argument, when applied to most other contexts, would be rather absurd. Imagine how ludicrous it would be for multi-ethnic states to insist that one particular ethnicity of individuals should be granted the right to vote, whilst others can ‘express their opinions’ and ‘seek to be heard’, but never truly represented in the flawed electoral democratic institutions?

There are some who see any and all attempts to enshrine equal love for all - whether it be through passing anti-discrimination laws, or legalising for marriage equality - as attempts to perturb the peace. They would do well in recognising that the seeds of dissonance and unrest are sowed not by recognition, but by alienation of the rights of critical stakeholders in the society. Indeed, from the perspective of social stability and quality of life/governance standpoint, a society that implicitly shuns and erases minorities through according to them different treatments from as it does majorities, is a fundamentally malfunctional and thus abysmal society.

It is equally vital, of course, that love for all does not become politicised, co-opted, or weaponised by fringe movements that seek to destabilise the institutions and structures in which they are situated. All movements advocating social change and reform, should ultimately be oriented towards advancing gradualist changes within pre-existing system, as opposed to violently or systemically overthrowing the system as it stands. We should not allow progressive causes to be hijacked by nefarious malign forces aiming to accomplish their own political agenda. Yet at the same time, what we must also guard against, is the overzealous witch-hunting of any and all voices deemed to be ‘deviant’ from orthodoxy. The heterodox is not something we should fear. Unquestioning obeisance, however, is.

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Assistant Professor, HKU