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29 Jan 2013

Singapore PM criticised for defending anti-gay sex law

Members of the LGBT community in Singapore today expressed their disappointment and outrage over the prime minister's reasoning as to why section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises gay sex should remain.

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Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was quoted by Today newspaper as saying: “Why is that law on the books? Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it.”

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Photo: Cabinet.gov.sg

In 2007, he said that the government’s decision to not enforce the law is a "practical arrangement that has evolved out of our historical circumstances" that "reflects the social norms and attitudes." He added: "It's better to accept the legal untidiness and the ambiguity. It works; don't disturb it."

Lee’s latest comments came when he was speaking at the Singapore Perspectives conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies on Monday. He was asked by a participant how the fact that the Republic is a secular country reconciles with “an old and archaic law that nearly discriminates against a whole (group) of people”.

Calling the repeal of the law a "looming threat to the basic building block (of family) by homosexual activists", two anti-gay pastors in Singapore took to the pulpit earlier this month in an effort to mobilise their members to lobby MPs and the government not to repeal the law. The High Court is scheduled to hear two cases on the constitutionality of section 377A in February and March. On Jan 22, the Attorney-General's Chambers issued a statement to warn the public to refrain from making any comments on the upcoming cases and it could be deemed sub judice.

Today also quoted Lee as saying: “These are not issues that we can settle one way or the other, and it’s really best for us just to leave them be, and just agree to disagree. I think that’s the way Singapore will be for a long time.” He added that the “conservative roots” in society do not want to see the social landscape change.

LGBTs in Singapore including their straight allies have taken to Facebook to speak out against Lee’s position and explanation for supporting the status quo, some of whom wanted to see him exert more moral leadership in favour of gay equality while others pointed out the possibility of his comments being sub judice.

“Is the Prime Minister signalling to the judiciary that S377A should stay on the books? The two constitutional challenges haven't even been heard yet and in light of the recent AGC warning, is the PM guilty of sub judice contempt of court?” Asked Shanghai-based Singaporean Kenneth Tan in a comment posted on the Today article which went viral today.

Alan Seah, a prominent member of the gay community, says that while he agrees with the stance that people with opposing views should sometimes just agree to disagree, it is however “not a solution when the law of the land is weighted against those on one side of the issue.”

“A good analogy would be the issue of whether life begins at conception. Our laws allow for women to have abortions. And society – other than at the extreme fringes – has for the most part agreed to disagree on the issue. But surely that would not be the case if abortions were considered criminal. Then there would surely be an ongoing, passionate 'polarised' fight between opposing groups, with the issue always boiling over. Much as it does on s377A," he told Fridae.

Law student Melissa Tsang likened the PM’s reasoning for keeping the law as: “The majority likes it, so we won't rock the boat."

She told Fridae: “To suggest that we should 'agree to disagree' is easy if the issue here is really just a debate about abstractions. But it's not. It can seem this way to the PM because he gets to walk away from this disagreement with his life untouched by it. We cannot agree to disagree precisely because we are not first equal.”

When contacted, Rev Yap Kim Hao, a gay-affirming retired pastor who is also the first Asian Bishop of The Methodist Church in Malaysian and Singapore from 1968 to 1973, said: “If we are to make progress to a better future we cannot afford to leave things are they are. We live in a situation of constant change and it is imperative for us to engage in serious conversation, to embrace change and to discover new possibilities to benefit all of us.”

Singapore

Reader's Comments

1. 2013-01-29 22:29
At one time in history lots of people loved owning slaves... and treating minorities as second class people... fortunately, we make progress and things can and do change... eventually people will realize that this too must change and narrow minded thinking has no place in a civilized society. I wait for that day.
2. 2013-01-29 22:40
Its ok, lets show our happiness with our votes lo. If others do not accept us, why should we accept them? Fair comment?
3. 2013-01-30 04:47
Meanwhile, Singapore quite happily trades and works with all manner of countries that not only tolerate homosexuality, but continue to take steps to account for it through gay marriage/civil ceremonies, adjusting inheritance rights laws, adjusting taxation and familial laws, etc etc etc. Curious how Singapore doesn't seem to have a problem with trade partners' stance on gay people, but the thought of facing up to the same kind of fairness and tolerance, herself? Oh dear me, noooo.

Now, considering that the Only kind of international press about Singapore ever seems to be "What a nice-but-dull place it is" (at best), Or "What a censorious police state it is" (at worst), you might imagine that Singapore's leaders would wish to do Something to counteract her international image as a nice-but-Controlled state, such as stepping into line with the attitudes of similar states? But no. Seems not.

I often wonder what would happen if, say, a few hundred Straight people - parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, colleagues, neighbours etc etc - tried to hold a rally to protest that they Support Gay Singaporeans? Why isn't That ever done? Why is it just left to One group of marginalised, discriminated-against group of people to stand up for themselves, in Singapore?

):-/
4. 2013-01-30 10:49
Guys and Gals, do watch the US documentary, "Outrage" (available at Amazon.com). In a nutshell, it's about the persecution of LGBT people and/or the hindering of LGBT rights legislation, by closeted gay men and women in power on Capitol Hill. Infamous among these self-loathing closet fags were J Edgar Hoover, the former FBI chief, and Ed Koch, former mayor of NYC. There you have it. It speaks volumes because the sickness among closet queers in power on Capitol Hill is the same sickness that persists in the world at large including this tiny red dot called Singapore - self-hating closet queers in power hating and, in some cases, destroying their own kind. This is a collector's item in my view. Whenever I watch the PM make a speech against the repeal of s377A, I get this uncanny feeling that it's the "Outrage" story repeating itself only, this time, it's in this tiny red dot.
Comment #5 was deleted by its author on 2013-02-02 13:18
6. 2013-01-31 15:09
I read this news on Towleroad.com and some put out the hypothesis that the PM tried to keep this law to satisfy its Muslim neighborhood, Malaysia and Indonesia. I don't know if this true or not, but it makes sense to me, because I always see Lee Hsien Loong as a progressive leader for his country.
7. 2013-02-01 12:14
I thought the AG's office told people not to 'weigh in' on this case as it may affect the court's ruling? Now, we will see if the justice system is tied to our politician's office. The world is watching...
8. 2013-02-02 01:57
Archaic views such as this one, is what has made Singapore being controlled by a despotic government. It just shows that there is no room for change or improvement in the quality of life on the little 'Island of LKY'
- unless of course it's about making more money......

They can hone in on the so-called 'Pink Dollar', but they're not prepared to acknowledge the people who provide those Dollars!
Comment edited on 2013-02-02 02:02:38
9. 2013-02-02 02:24
Actually, why can't we remove the law and THEN agree to disagree? It's not like the government intends to use it anyway, right ? Hmmm..
10. 2013-02-02 10:14
Yes jimmyw, and then there's that! :-)
11. 2013-02-02 17:37
Yes, the bright spark from Cambridge or Oxford is right, if the law already exists, there must be a reason, so we should just leave it.... The same way they should never have changed laws re slaves, women's rights, racial prejudice, etc. etc.



12. 2013-02-02 17:38
Yes, the bright spark from Cambridge or Oxford is right, if the law already exists, there must be a reason, so we should just leave it.... The same way they should never have changed laws re slaves, women's rights, racial prejudice, etc. etc.



13. 2013-02-02 17:38
Yes, the bright spark from Cambridge or Oxford is right, if the law already exists, there must be a reason, so we should just leave it.... The same way they should never have changed laws re slaves, women's rights, racial prejudice, etc. etc.



14. 2013-02-03 22:53
and i thought singaporeans were of higher intelligence in asia?
15. 2013-02-04 06:05
i guess there is no hope now for singapore to be leader in asian countries for allowing gay marriage !
16. 2013-02-05 22:31
Post #6 has a point. For the current sad state of maturity the nation has, it might be a worse burden on us if neighbouring religious extremists launch terrorist acts on lil' red dot and GLBT be later blamed for inviting 'problems' and jeopardizing the country's security.

So if we want change, we might as well pray for openness and maturity of our religious leaders first..
17. 2013-02-07 16:46
The UK and France have just voted to legalise same six marriage, so they're moving into the present.....and still Singapore remains in the dark ages.....

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