October 21, 2005

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Tsang's moral hypocricy

There has been a big fuss over Donald Tsang's "privatisation of morals" comment in relation to the government's incredible appeal against the homosexuality age of consent in Hong Kong. Today Stephen Vines in The Standard points out the curious hypocricy (he's too polite to call it that) in A Moral Disconnect:

Leaving aside the dubious notion that any moral view is shared by all of society, Tsang raises a question at the heart of the debate over the extent to which the state should intrude into the lives of its citizens....On the one hand, he believes that society should be able to dictate one particular form of sexual activity between adults who have reached the age of consent, but he has no other stated views on the state's attitude to other forms of sexual activity that may or may not be viewed with distaste by the majority of the population.

So far, so inconsistent, but let us look further into Tsang's views, where more significant inconsistencies are revealed. He is on record as being skeptical of legislation to outlaw discrimination on grounds of race and, even more so, on grounds of sexual orientation. Tsang says he is still pondering racial discrimination laws, but has no interest in the other form of discrimination. One of his arguments is that laws cannot change attitudes and are, anyway, unlikely to be the most effective way of resolving these problems.

Advocates of these laws say that legislation sets a benchmark for what society regards as acceptable in the equal treatment of all citizens, and that the very presence of legislation helps to change attitudes. Tsang fully accepts this argument when it comes to a law that regulates which sexual acts are permissible between consenting adults in private, but maintains that a law which outlaws unequal treatment on grounds of race or sexual orientation is inappropriate. This is so even when this kind of discrimination goes beyond the private activities of adults and can cause real jeopardy to the victims of unequal treatment. Tsang is also reluctant to legislate on matters relating to the establishment of minimum wages for employees or even on matters such as the prohibition of idling engines for waiting vehicles.

In all these cases, he has argued that persuasion is better than law and that the government must be careful not to become too intrusive in the lives of its citizens...

Hong Kong, which self-consciously prides itself on its place among forward- looking world cities, is likely to emerge as a very curious place in this cosmopolitan world if, as Tsang suggests, its government feels the need to spend its time going to court to defend the right of the state to regulate what goes on in the privacy of bedrooms, while adamantly refusing to enact legislation that seeks to create equal treatment for all its citizens and to preserve minimum standards that are of benefit to the least advantaged.

Besides which, peeking into the privacy of the bedroom is rarely a savory activity.

Hong Kong is in danger of going down the American route, where leaders religious values infect their policy making decisions. Last I checked, Catholicism was not the state religion of Hong Kong. Let's keep it that way.

posted by Simon on 10.21.05 at 09:34 AM in the Hong Kong category.


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