First, I gave a presentation in front of some other law PhD students at a PhD seminar for PhD students. It was meant to be practice for the real presentation, which I realised is happening next Friday. I was freaking out about this, of course. I really, really, really hate speaking in front of a group of people; I never talk in class or ask questions during talks because I get nervous and I sometimes forget what I want to say halfway through saying it, and other times I cannot formulate my thoughts in a coherent manner. Giving a 15-minute presentation shouldn't be that hard on paper; but because of my absolute hatred for public speaking, which is perhaps fuelled by my tendency to speak too fast, I was so stressed out over it.
I think it wasn't disastrous. It was all right. People seemed interested and I was asked some questions at the end, most of which were interesting; but it was my first time doing it and I didn't realise that I addressed them too quickly until John pointed it out to me over dinner after the fact. But there was a particular question that I wish I'd answered better; I had half an answer in my head when the guy was asking the question but of course, when it came to answering it, I forgot half of my half-answer.
Anyway, the question was about constitutional supremacy in Singapore. I am too tired to remember exactly what it was, but it was something along the lines of how Singapore can be properly considered a constitutional supremacy if the Court of Appeal in Lim Meng Suang appeared to defer to the legislature on important constitutional issues. It actually makes sense what the Court did if one adopted a positivistic view of constitutional rights; but that itself raises the question of whether constitutional rights can ever be viewed through a positivistic lens. I don't think they can. But the Court of Appeal appeared to think otherwise. It's how it was able to adopt this strict legal approach to the 377A/Article 12 right to equality issue.
I don't know. I really have massive problems with this case. I re-read Tan Eng Hong v Attorney-General, the locus standi case, and I was reminded of why I was so shocked and disappointed when Lim Meng Suang came out. The CA in Tan made comments that were clearly sympathetic to the plight of gay men; and in Lim, all of that fell away. How can something that is arguably unconstitutional (CA in Tan) eventually be ruled constitutional? It seems contradictory. It is either constitutional or it is not. I don't think there can be a grey area in these matters. I honestly think that the CA did not want to decide the issue and thus took a strict legal approach, and bounced the problem back to Parliament. I mean, I don't know. 377A is a legal abomination and Lim Meng Suang is deeply disappointing. It doesn't tell us anything about rights. Who cares about the reasonable classification test? Who gives a shit if there's a rational relation between the differentia and the object of the statute? The question is whether the object of the statute is legitimate. This is the most important question in the constitutional inquiry (because a statute with an illegitimate purpose cannot be constitutional) and yet, the Court said that only the legislature has the power to review or amend its own statutes. Really? Really not, actually. This case gave the impression that courts in Singapore don't have strike down powers, but that's not even doctrinally supported. I've read so many cases since where the courts, including during the Yong era, explicitly stated that they have the power to strike down legislations. One could say that in Lim, the Court's comment has to be seen in the context of its refusal to admit a test of legitimacy: because it cannot review the legitimacy of the purpose of a statute, it follows that it cannot strike down laws with an illegitimate purpose.
But the premise itself is already unsound. The Court kept saying that it had no legal basis to review a statute's legitimacy; but nothing in the Constitution prevents the courts from doing so. It did not give a proper reason for its stance. Like I said, the Court's approach was too legalistic and positivistic. The decision is absolutely indefensible, both in terms of its threadbare reasoning and shitty outcome. This is especially so in the light of the parliamentary debates on the issue. I mean, there's no other way to say this except that Parliament absolutely failed gay men in Singapore. How in the world can a civilised country, a supposed developed country, legitimate prejudice through the law? That is such a perversion of everything that the law should stand for: justice, fairness, equality. There is nothing just or fair or equal about 377A, and I think that Parliament's reasons for keeping it are so bad. It's classic Singaporean/PAP pragmatism, but at the cost of gay men's equal sexual status. It is patently unjust, actually.
The more I think about it, the more angry I am. The anger operates on two levels: first, I am angry on behalf of Singaporean gay men who have to put up with such shit and the nonsensical stunts that people who support this law try to pull (see petition against Adam Lambert's performing in the New Year's Eve countdown in Singapore); but perhaps more importantly, I am really angry that the Court of Appeal upheld this law, on a completely unconvincing basis. Is Singapore really part of the 21st century and the first world? The mere idea that the law is used to enforce prejudice offends me so deeply; it really goes against everything that I believe in. It is really a perversion of the law. It is so thoroughly and deeply wrong, and I would even say that it is immoral. This isn't even a case of reasonable disagreement between reasonable people. There is nothing reasonable about prejudice and homophobia. There is no logical argument that can be advanced to support the views of the conservative Singaporeans that homosexuality is wrong. Even if there is something inherently wrong with homosexuality, who cares? Why should anyone give a fuck what consenting adults wish to do in the privacy of their own homes?
Okay. I have completely gone off track. This is what happens when I get started on this issue. So anyway, I had really interesting questions and comments at the end of the presentation. I found it interesting, even if predictable, that the general consensus was that the courts are relatively weak and someone even questioned the independence of the judiciary. This German student brought up an interesting point about whether constitutional supremacy and parliamentary sovereignty can co-exist in the way that Singapore seems to think that they can. But then again, I guess that boils down to how one interprets constitutional rights; if one took the Lim approach, then yeah, it can be squared because the courts didn't go against the Constitution. It laid down and applied the test for determining a law's conformity with Article 12. There you go. But that's the problem, isn't it? Constitutional rights are necessarily moral.
ANYWAY. The point is, it was all right. John and Barry were really sweet and encouraging afterwards. I quite liked the questions at the end actually. If only I had taken more time to properly address them instead of speeding through them.
So yeah, it was all right. I will be freaking out about the actual conference quite soon, so stay tuned for that!
Second, Dominic has been so sweet and present throughout this ordeal. I did a test run with him on Monday night in his office, and it was cute that the main thing he got out of it was '377A'. Because, you know, it's a number; but I'm sure he was just being facetious as usual. He made a couple of useful suggestions to the actual physical presentation, like use two comparative cases instead of three, and to split a particularly long slide into two slides. He also concurred that I speak a bit too fast.
We went for a drink at the Punter afterwards. I ordered a glass of wine and I apparently paid for the biggest size; the wine glass was almost filled to the brim. I definitely felt its effects afterwards. Dominic walked me to my front door. He wished me luck for the presentation; I said, 'Thanks! I need it!' He replied, 'It's very good already!'
We met again after the presentation and after my later dinner at 10pm. We walked around the park behind my house and sat down at the Iguana opposite the college for a subpar cocktail. The company, of course, made up for that. He finally gave me the pictures he got me from the Musee d'Orsay. One was a Van Gogh; the other was a Monet that I bought in a post card size when I was at the museum. What a nice coincidence. It shows that he has good taste.
On that note, I was pleasantly surprised when I was at his office on Monday night to see the poster that he had on his wall. He told me that he liked a particular German artist, and of course, I looked him up (I had to judge his taste, obviously). The painting that appealed to me most was that which Dominic has on his wall in print form. (It is this one: Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.) Like I said, he has pretty good taste!
I was so surprised to find out that he'd only been to Berlin for a day. I was like, 'I've already been there twice!' But why do I assume that people from a particular country should be familiar with its capital? I don't know.
I wanted to write more but I am really tired. It's 1.40am. I've got so much work to do; haven't done jack before the supervision on Friday morning. I don't know why I always do this to myself, this last minute panic and scrambling.