For 18 years, a former banker, Mark Peaker, has been writing to the South China Morning Post about everything from Hong Kong’s COVID-19 response to LGBTQ rights. Recently, his letters to the SCMP have been collated in a book titled Peaker of the Peak. An important topic that frequently comes up is the controversial issue of LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong, which is a predominantly Confucian society.
In a letter dated June 11, 2021, he criticized Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, one of the co-authors of this article, for referring to the Gay Games as disgraceful. He further called on Ho to shut up and apologize. Too much is at stake for our failure to properly respond to Peaker’s dictatorial remark when the torch of freedom of expression is being threatened by the brutal attempts of Peaker to forcibly bend the public discourse toward his LGBTQ-based viewpoints.
As a lawmaker in a cosmopolitan city, Ho has an obligation to make it clear that the vast majority of Chinese people in Hong Kong have been brought to believe, and do believe, that the Confucian heterosexual marriage system is sacred. Ho also has a sacred obligation to guard against the invasion of any corrosive and negative cultures spread by same-sex marriage. In particular, he will try his best to close the door to any possibility of letting the heterodox culture of same-sex marriage corrupt the minds of our young people.
As a lawmaker in a cosmopolitan city, Junius Ho has an obligation to make it clear that the vast majority of Chinese people in Hong Kong have been brought to believe, and do believe, that the Confucian heterosexual marriage system is sacred
First of all, we will explain why the principle of freedom of expression is regarded as having particular importance. Freedom of expression is a long-standing right under English law and can be traced back to Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689, which guarantees freedom of speech in Parliament. In the US Bill of Rights, it appears in the First Amendment. In his book On Liberty, John Stuart Mill warned against the detrimental risk of suppressing unpopular and dissenting viewpoints.
The above argument has been known as the “argument from truth”. The basis of the argument is that nobody has a monopoly of truth. In particular, Mill asserted that the majority in a society has no right to suppress the views of the minority, however much the majority dislikes the minority. Tyranny of the majority is totally intolerable. The story of Galileo (1564-1642) reminds us that the ban on Copernican thought was wrong. Galileo’s famous book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632) enraged the Jesuits. As a result, Galileo was tried before the Inquisition, found guilty of heresy and forced to recant. As then-US Supreme Court associate justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr correctly pointed out in 1919, “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” (Abrams vs US, 250 US 616 )
Another widely favored argument in favor of freedom of expression is based on the idea that such freedom is an important aspect of an individual’s self-fulfillment. This argument is rather broad because it also covers artistic expression (Richard Stone, Textbook on Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Oxford: OUP, 2008, p 309). Thirdly, it is all too obvious that the repression of alternative and dissenting views is the antithesis of democracy. Lord Steyn regards freedom of speech as the lifeblood of democracy (R vs Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Simms (2000) 2 AC 115).
As a political system, democracy should take account of the wishes of the people in decisions about how they are to be governed and by whom. Only by having the opportunity to debate alternatives to the status quo can the individual citizen be in a position to exercise the responsibility attached to that membership of the society meaningfully and effectively (Richard Stone, ibid, p 310). Finally, freedom of expression is particularly important because it is a prerequisite for the enjoyment of other rights and freedoms such as association and assembly.
Restrictions on the exercise of this right must however be (a) provided by law and (b) must be necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others (HK vs Ng kung Siu (1999) 2 HKCFAR 442,464). To the disappointment of Peaker, Ho’s comments in relation to the Gay Games have not trampled on the red lines laid down by the CFA in Ng Kung Siu’s case. We cannot see any reasonable grounds for imposing restrictions on Ho’s exercise of his right to freedom of expression. Nor should Ho be required to apologize.
Article 23 of the National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China clearly states that we must advance excellent Chinese traditions and values and resist the influence of any improper and negative cultures. Though the National Security Law of the PRC has not been listed in Annex III to the Basic Law, the provisions stipulated in Article 23 provide the best conceptual lens through which to understand the worries and sensitivities of the central government to corrosive cultures.
In spite of our support of anti-discrimination statutes against sexual orientation, we think it is an unreasonably huge leap for some radical members of the LGBTQ community to use the Gay Games as a convenient platform to promote same-sex marriage as a special right in Hong Kong. The level of social acceptance of same-sex marriage is greatly restrained by traditional Chinese culture in the city. Given the increasingly close cultural ties and interaction between Hong Kong and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, we should adopt a wider perspective and put any attempts to promote same-sex marriage in Hong Kong in the right focus. Spiritual pollution knows no frontiers. To safeguard cultural security on the Chinese mainland, we should guard against the spread of corrosive cultures across the boundaries. Ho definitely has a duty to speak up.
Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.
Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, a part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center, and co-founder of the Together We Can and Hong Kong Coalition.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.