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15 May 2009

No change to government's position on homosexuality: Singapore

Following the Aware saga in which homosexuality, religious and other issues were fierily debated on the media and on online forums, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister warns Singaporeans against mixing religion with politics.

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng on Thursday told the media that the government’s position on homosexuality is clear and it will not be pressured into changing it.

The Straits Times devoted several pages to the Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng's comments on the Aware saga in its Friday, May 15 edition.
He was responding to media queries from The Straits Times arising from the recent Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) saga.

Wong, who is also the home affairs minister, reiterated Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech in Parliament in October 2007, in which PM Lee had said that Singapore is basically a conservative society and the conventional family, a heterosexual stable family, is the norm and building block of society.

In 2007, the government legalised oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples but retained the law that criminalises sex between men.

“The Government’s position on this issue is clear. It was stated by the PM in Parliament on October 2007, and it has not changed. In his speech, PM said that Singapore is basically a conservative society and the conventional family, a heterosexual stable family, is the norm and the building block of our society. However, we recognise that homosexuals are part of our society. They have a place in our society and are entitled to their private lives. This is the way the majority of Singaporeans want it to be – a stable society with traditional, heterosexual family values but with space for homosexuals to live their private lives and contribute to the society.
“The Government was not going to be pressured into changing its position on homosexuality before the takeover of AWARE. Nor does the Government intend to change its position now that the old guard has recaptured AWARE.
“The debate on Sec 377A of the Penal Code showed how the homosexuality issue polarised our society. Advocates on both sides were passionate and vocal. In the recent AWARE tussle, homosexuality was clearly a major issue to both sides.  This is unproductive and divisive. 
“Our society will not reach consensus on this issue for a very long time to come. The way for homosexuals to have space in our society is to accept the informal limits which reflect the point of balance that our society can accept, and not to assert themselves stridently as gay groups do in the West.
“We live in a diverse, multi-racial and multi-religious society.  Every group, whether religious or secular, has to live and let live, to exercise restraint and show mutual respect and tolerance. If any group pushes its agenda aggressively, there will be strong reactions from the other groups.”

The Deputy Prime Minister further stressed that keeping religion and politics apart was a key rule of political engagement here.

“Our political arena must always be a secular one,” he said

Referencing the Aware saga which began on March 28, when a team of new members seized nine of the 12 positions on the exco, Wong said the Government was “worried about the disquieting public perception that a group of conservative Christians, all attending the same church, which held strong views on homosexuality, had moved in and taken over Aware because they disapproved of what Aware had been doing.”

It emerged that six of the eleven members attend Church of Our Saviour where its Pastor Derek Hong had tried to mobilise his congregation and churches in Singapore to stand up against the gay issue since 2003 as reported by Yawningbread.org.

Self-declared “feminist mentor”, corporate lawyer and lay church leader Thio Su Mien, who admitted to mentoring the members behind the takeover, justified their actions by arguing that they had perceived Aware to be  promoting a “gay and lesbian agenda” in recent years. Two weeks ago, the new exco was ousted at an EGM attended by over 3,000 members.

Mr Wong said: “If religious groups start to campaign to change certain government policies, or use the pulpit to mobilise their followers to pressure the government, or push aggressively to gain ground at the expense of other groups, this must lead to trouble. Keeping religion and politics separate is a key rule of political engagement.

He also warned against “import(ing) into Singapore the culture wars between the extreme liberals and conservatives that are going on in the US.”

To read DPM Wong Kan Seng’s comment, click onto mha.gov.sg.

Update: Fridae's CEO, Dr Stuart Koe, was interviewed by Channel NewsAsia on the matter. The video below originally aired Friday May 15 2009.

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-05-15 19:12  
I hear Thio Li Ann has not given up & is now trying to smear NMP Siew Kum Hong:

SINGAPORE: After being accused on the Internet of pushing the gay agenda, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Siew Kum Hong now finds himself defending his professional conduct following his active role in the recent Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) saga.

TODAY has learnt of an email seeking clarification on whether Mr Siew — a non—practising lawyer — had contravened the Legal Profession Act by rendering pro—bono legal advisory work.

It was sent to four bodies: The Attorney—General’s Chambers (AGC), the Law Society, the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA) and the Singapore Academy of Law.

Neither the AGC nor the Law Society, which govern the conduct of lawyers, was able to respond by press time. SCCA president Angeline Lee said her association was "looking into this matter".

Corporate counsels are not considered to be practising lawyers, who need to renew their practising certificates every year. Section 33 of the Legal Profession Act prohibits any person without such a certificate from providing the services of an advocate or solicitor.

Offenders could be fined up to S$25,000, or jailed for a maximum of six months.

When contacted, the sender of the email, Mr Tongel Yeo, 51, stressed that it was "not about Siew Kum Hong", but the wider question on the extent that corporate counsels could "represent to people that we are legal advisers".

Mr Yeo, himself a corporate counsel who sits on the board of the charity group Methodist Welfare Services, said he had been a passive onlooker in the AWARE saga. He did not attend the extraordinary meeting on May 2, but read the subsequent newspaper reports.

He said: "That’s when I read that he was reported to have claimed he was a legal adviser and going to his website, it appears that’s what he was doing — advising them."

In response, Mr Siew, who is seeking a second NMP term, was confident he had not breached any regulations.

Reiterating that he was "at all time, cognisant of the fact that I do not hold a practising certificate", Mr Siew said: "It was the members of the Old Guard of AWARE who described me as their legal adviser. I did not hold myself up as such."

He did advise them "on a variety of matters, including my own views on the Constitution of AWARE".

But he stressed: "I believe that all in—house counsels — and in fact, all trained lawyers — do from time to time, state their views of what the law in a specific situation would be, in the context and capacity other than being an advocate or solicitor."

He added: "I hope this is not part of what seems to be an ongoing, orchestrated campaign to target me."

While the legal bodies have not yet sought Mr Siew’s response, he said he was considering writing to them to express his position.

— TODAY/so

2. 2009-05-15 19:49  
But it's great that DP Wong Kan Seng had made a very clear stand he does NOT condone mixing religion with politics.
3. 2009-05-16 03:49  
It doesn't matter if the government's stand on decriminalization (for a start) doesn't change for now; that may result in what I would consider to be the tragic result of voter approval by liberal Singaporeans.

This will only give the liberal faction in Singapore more time to work the ground and swing public sentiment (deservedly) against the PAP.

LGBTs have allies, mostly with liberal leanings, who outnumber us many to one.

As a result of the AWARE saga, I've been able to identify several groups who could potentially vote against the PAP:

1. LGBTs;

2. feminists, and other women who have concerns for women's issues;

3. secularists;

4. liberals;

5. others who have a beef with Christians for a variety of reasons, most of which are legitimate.

(Note: The delineations above are not necessarily mutually exclusive.)

Funnily, going by online comments, even many Christians are vowing to vote against the PAP.

The unimaginable could well happen in Singapore, and none of this could have come about without queer activism.
4. 2009-05-16 06:26  
Singapore needs its own gay version of Rosa Parks...

Comment #5 was deleted by its author
6. 2009-05-16 15:31  
Do NOT even think of underestimating the Singapore government. Highest ministers' pay in the world+in some parts of the universe too, no need for accountability in Temasek massive losses of people's monies, no responsibility & removal of incompetent civil servants on easy go easy come Mas Selamat (who even has footage/proof that these events ever happened?-archived media clips do not count!), blatant anti-gay laws, never ending escalating cost of living, .....u name it.

So, who in the right mind will let such lucrative powers slip? They will do EVERYTHING in their darkest means to STAY in power. Only way to revamp the entire corrupt system is if a deadlier strain of swine flu wipe them out, or wait for an act of God. Otherwise, you all in Singapore can slowly wait. Dun mean to be a wet blanket, but these are ugly realities.

Keep fighting if you must but know your enemies. Godspeed & Good luck!
7. 2009-05-16 18:33  
Hmmmmmmmm... I can't recall Ever seeing or noticing a comment being removed before... I wonder what was said? As an aside, what Would you have to say to be considered someone that had to be so silenced - something that was personally insulting to another poster here, or which was generally racist/homophobic etc in some way -

Or would you simply have to blatantly criticise Fridae.com itself in some way, or to be extremely critical of both Singaporean governmental policies AND of Singapore herself? I'm intellectually curious, now - as concepts alone, are such antagonistic stances of open dissent 'allowed' here?

Back to the point - yes, the SG gov is unlikely to change its stance any time soon, permitting its idealised vision of what society 'is', and how it operates. Then again, any government which forces conscription on its people - but, tell me, what about all the Girls? - never particularly impresses me on the basis of 'We know what's best for The People', anyway...
8. 2009-05-16 21:18  
One possible strategy to continue the momentum generated by the AWARE AFFAIR, is to promote GLBT rights in Singapore is to use the argument used FOR gay marriage in USA: it's DISCRIMINATION against a significant portion of a given society. Take heart, S'pores. While laws were not changed, minds and hearts were. Keep challenging and allowing the anti-GLBT forces to show their true colors in the public forum. Like it says in the Bible: "By their FRUITS you shall know them!"
9. 2009-05-16 23:18  
It is important both the governing bodies and society of Singapore realized that homosexuality is a global phenomenon and it is going to be all the more so.

It should be acceptable that people do come up with more ways to seek that happiness when the conventional family models may fail to provide.

We cannot stop time at the point where the traditional family model ideally provides for all, nor imagine that time stops progressing into other forms than what is traditionally pursue.

Fundamentally, people fall in love with the one another romantically or not. People do not fall in love because of private parts, people need to recognize and grow into a deeper depth that gender barriers will soon be crossed or already has been crossed in the world even outside of Singapore.

It shouldn't be the laws to draw a sense of lawfulness in the society. At the very basic, it should be the sense of responsibility or lawfulness cultured into everyone at all times.

We all know homosexuality exists, we learn that knowledge but should keep it within ourselves to respect the choice of the individual, nobody should ever force any others to walk anybody's way. There is no defined right or wrong, it's just the pursue of an individual's happiness and the gallant attitude in acceptance or rejection.

The rule of thump stays ~ the safety and rights of the individual protecting modesty, respect, integrity, assets and rights. Simple.

Religious groups should identify themselves and their stand and not mingle themselves amongst female identified groups. I suppose AWARE should put itself rather more feminist associated group, never religiously nor gender discriminated.
Comment edited on 2009-05-16 23:19:07
10. 2009-05-17 20:26  
ur singaporean governments anti-gay stance is draconian
11. 2009-05-18 10:59  
A safe and weak excuse. One often used by governments and committees where there is no leadership or vision.

"Oh, we are too conservative to change..." "The people are not ready..." It is a damning, limited and disrespectful view of "the people". Clearly, there are people out there who want social progress.

If "we are too conservative" were a real excuse, we would never have seen the end of slavery in America, or the provision of equal rights to women, or any other significant social progress. Just because something has always been a certain way does not make it right.

What the government is saying is this: as long as homosexuals keep quiet and contribute to building this nation, they will be tolerated. But society will continue to have draconian laws to hold over the heads of these homosexuals, to throw them in jail, or wreck their lives and careers, should they step out of line.

12. 2009-05-18 13:22  
Re: #11 shitzutonka: Brilliant & very accurate observations.
Their stance's a bit like that scary-looking RC Pope:
Smile at & preach 'tolerance' to gay people, but with a dagger hidden beneath the cloak. What's new?

Which is why I don't intend to stay here for long. ;-)
13. 2009-05-18 15:56  
What can I say. We'll just have to let the old bloods all die off. Will take a while though.
14. 2009-05-19 06:19  
I'm lost. The AWARE saga was started by Christian Fundamentalists extremists who wanted to push for their anti-gay ideals into secular space, not to mention numerous statement of the government's stance that "Singapore has family as the main building block of society" and stuffs.

Yet at the same time, the government is now trying to say that gays are given their own space to live it.

This is the problem with... I'll emphasize... SOME pro-family, pro-religious groups. They are the ones that are trying to cause a polarity and remove that what's already little space that we already have. And when things like that happen, it's only natural that there's retaliation.

And to say that MNP Siew overstep his boundaries as a non-practising lawyer and being seen to take a partisan stance, I'll say NMP Thio Li-ann and co. overstepped their boundary too, by bringing issues of religions into politics, not to mention advocating intolerance towards a minority group in SG.
15. 2009-05-19 10:45  
Is anyone else having a problem with viewing the latest article on pinkdot? Even the comments box is not there.
16. 2009-05-19 11:27  
Now that we all know what is the PAP's stand on gay rights, I would like to know what is the Opposition's stand. Can someone from Fridae go interview them? I don't think ST will...
17. 2009-05-19 23:18  
Hi slimFit,

I've only recently started posting in fridae, and I had asked the other members here a related question. You probably missed that exchange so if I may, I would like to reignite the topic.

The SDP is the only party in Singapore that supports gay rights, and the question I had posed is: Shouldn't we as LGBTs throw our support behind the only political party that does so? (I suspect that the newly formed Reform Party might be the next political party to do so going by Kenneth Jeyaratnam's statement on "equality for all Singaporeans:" after his election as Secretary-General of the RP, but no official word yet.)

You may view evidence of the SDP's support of pinkdot for instance - it's The Online Citizen's spontaneous inteview with Ms Chee Siok Chin:


Just a few minutes before logging in here, I noticed an article on the SDP website reporting the same event:


I have only recently become a full fledged supporter of the SDP because, as it stands, they are the only party that has a full committment to human rights in general and gay rights in particular. I also believe that we need to stand behind the party that supports us - we will need them in Parliament to add to the small but growing number of voices there on the issue of gay rights.

I hope I have answered your question.
18. 2009-05-20 04:26  
Your gov is somehow stuck in the Middle Ages.
Living in Israel where gays has same legal status as strights I feel sorry for my GLBT brothers and sisters in Singapore.
I avoid visitting your country and hope you'll be stong enough to push the homofobia out of your legal system.
Shalom srom the liberal and open state of Israel where we have openly gay paliament members and high rank officers in the army.
19. 2009-05-20 12:56  
Hi percole,

While the SDP's open stand for equal glbt rights is laudable, I don't really feel comfortable with the conduct of it's most prominent representative/ secretary-general, Dr Chee Soon Juan.
Don't get me wrong...actually he does raise many valid & relevant issues with regards to the ruling party's policies & events affected, directly or indirectly, e.g: the NKF Scandal,etc.
The problem is the WAY he puts them across: he's a lot like the loud defiant schoolboys you see in the UK, always shouting & disrupting the teachers, whether justified or not. Free speech is as free speech does, bt there must STILL be a basic structure of respect & coorperation between people & the authorities; we're supposed to WORK together, not fight against each other.
And furthermore, Dr Chee is giving the PAP the perfect excuse to justify their draconian mentality or worse, take them even further..."see, if we don't control the people, they will all be like loud, disrespectful, & ill-disciplined like Chee."
Therefore, I believe we should do ourselves -and the community-
a favor: distance ourselves fr the SDP. For the time being at least.
I'm not saying this because I favour the PAP- far,far,far fr that...
I view their faux-classy, faux-Western pretensions, & gross exploitation of "Asian values" to control the populace, with a very BAD taste in my mouth. Rather, I am very concerned that if we align ourselves with a party known more for media attention-seeking than any substantial policies, we lose all credibility...which will play right into our opponent's hands. Personally I would be more interested in Mr Kenneth Jeyaratnam's Reform Party. This guy's a very solid opposition candidate, with his credentials & expertise in economics, he will bring much-needed economic reform for ordinary Singaporeans. Have you noticed ordinary people tended to be less extremist, and subsequently homophobic, when they are leading meaningful, prosperous lives? It may seem so under the PAP, but people who had lived here for long will know: income disparity between rich & poor is an impending time-bomb, very much like in the US during the Bush years. I'm also very heartened by his statement "equality for all Singaporeans".
Will he be the Singaporean Barack Obama?
I'm keeping my fingers crossed. ;-)

20. 2009-05-21 07:27  
Hi Bains,

I debated to myself about how to reply to your post and I finally thought that I would do it bit by bit and thematically. I hope we can see this through its course. (Hey, I didn't realize you were a woman - I'm not in the habit of checking on profiles.)


"I don't really feel comfortable with the conduct of it's most prominent representative/ secretary-general, Dr Chee Soon Juan...The problem is the WAY he puts them across: he's a lot like the loud defiant schoolboys you see in the UK, always shouting & disrupting the teachers, whether justified or not."

I note that you've described Dr Chee's shouting as something he does ALWAYS.

Are you sure that you are not still clinging on to the memory of the 2001 elections ('Where's the money?"); I don't remember any other time that he's been known to act that way.

Well, the media campaign sure succeeded, didn't it? They repeated that scene over and over - much like the endless repeats of Anwar's black eye - so much so that it WOULD stick in everyone's memory and leave them with a negative impression. This was the PAP government's - and it's compliant media's - opportunism against a man whose intellect they actually fear.

I believe that the memory of that incident even sticks in Alex Au's memory to this day if you read the comments portion to his recent article on Siew Kum Hong's police report.

My question to you is: Is this a fair way to judge anyone?
Comment edited on 2009-05-21 07:33:44
21. 2009-05-21 07:58  
Hi again Bains,

"...the SDP's open stand for equal glbt rights is laudable,..."

I'm going to go on record for the first time when I say this: I was singularly unimpressed with Siew Kum Hong's speech - no debate, mind you - in Parliament in 2007 during the S 377a (Penal Code) 'debates'.

I'm sure that even I could have done a better job at it, and I don't say this facetiously. I'm not a lawyer, but I have studied constitutional law. Constitutional law is the supreme law of the land in any country. That means that Acts of Parliament such as the Penal Code are subordinate to constitutional law.

The precise Article in the Constitution that I am referring to is:

Equal protection
12. —(1) All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.


Supremacy of Constitution
4. This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic of Singapore and any law enacted by the Legislature after the commencement of this Constitution which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.

Thus, because S 377a renders gay men unequal to heterosexual couples, the law is void and therefore illegal - technically, it cannot be enforced.

As a lawyer, Siew Kum Hong could have made the constitutional basis for repeal the substance of his speech. But he did not mention the Constitution even once during that speech even though many people - beginning with me - were doing just that in the months leading up to the debates. (Actually, even Alex Au never did but that's because he is not trained in it.)

By contrast, constitutional law is the substance of the SDP's political discourse; it's also the SDP's basis for support gay rights. What if was they who were in Parliament instead of Siew Kum Hong?

And much more. Because Singapore's law books contain an entire slew of laws that are unlawful; our law books have been massacred by the PAP and that too is the substance of the SDP's political campaign. (And by the way, Slyvia Lim copycatted the exact SDP-initiated format in her recent speech in Parliament against the Public Order Act.)

I will leave it at these two posts for now. I do hope to continue this with you (or anyone else who's interested), so I look forward to your reply.
Comment #22 was deleted by its author
23. 2009-05-21 15:02  
Hi percole:

Great points you've raised; though I'm slightly amused by yr realization that I'm nt a man.
I hope it's not a problem or issue with you :p

Now let me clarify what I've just said:

"I don't really feel comfortable with the conduct of it's most prominent representative/ secretary-general, Dr Chee Soon Juan.
Don't get me wrong...actually he does raise many valid & relevant issues with regards to the ruling party's policies & events affected, directly or indirectly, e.g: the NKF Scandal,etc.
The problem is the WAY he puts them across, he's a lot like the loud defiant schoolboys you see in the UK, always shouting & disrupting the teachers, whether justified or not."

From the above I've made myself very clear & acknowleged Dr Chee's effort to raise relevant topics & issues affecting Singaporeans.
And yes, I did describe Chee's behavior as similar to that of defiant, ill-disciplined UK schoolboys, bt pls note the 'shouting & disrupting' are technically a description of said schoolboys' behavior, not him; though I'm drawing a parallel with his behavior to theirs.
Taking aside the infamous 2001 incident, he's since went on hunger strikes, engaging with foreign media to just whine about the state of things here (contrast this with AWARE"s old guard: they actually DID something & nt waste time whining when their Org was unjustly hijacked), and almost all his protests are more like his personal issues & grievances with the PAP and the Lees. With such a self-centered person, how is he going to lead even his own party, let alone a nation? He's almost as psychologically unstable as Thio Li Ann, though the latter is admittedly better @ disguising her madness behind a mask.

Then look at recently-organised Pinkdot, or even netizen's peaceful protest of rising electricity price hike, living expenses & the Lehman Minibonds scandal...& bear this in mind: they are the REAL, affected Singapore citizens who are also victims of the PAP system- do they behave like Chee? NO!!! They put their discontent across...in a simple, straightforward way that strikes a chord with many people.
THAT is why they have the people's support.
24. 2009-05-21 15:29  
As for yr comment: "Are you sure that you are not still clinging on to the memory of the 2001 elections ('Where's the money?"); I don't remember any other time that he's been known to act that way."

I am VERY sure I'm living in 2009, not 2001, thank you very much
(btw yr comment is quite patronizing). In fact, I would very much like to give Chee a chance, but time & again his actions & behavior as highlighted above have disappointed me...and many other Singaporeans who were hoping for a credible AND sound alternative to trounce the PAP. Dr Chee's obviously an intelligent man, as you've mentioned, intelligent enough to have the foresight to include Constitutional law into his Party’s manifesto.
But someone as worldly-wise as you would certainly know, IQ alone is NOT enough for a leadership position. A leader HAS to have the characteristic traits of tact, diplomacy, a sense of decency & personal integrity...and of course, the requisite EQ to relate with people well. Think Barack Obama. THAT is the kind of leader we need.
25. 2009-05-22 13:14  
I vote to support the Party that supports the Gay Agenda regardless. GB was made President in the year 2000 because a three million block of votes were divided over issues that were 5,000 kilometers away . Philosophic differences that could be debated for weeks. So how much sense does it make to vote for party that is crippling you in your own country? It was certainly the wrong answer in November of 2000.
26. 2009-05-22 20:38  
another crappy reason.
SG is made up of the majority and the minority but a country's laws should not be bias, majority way or othwerwise.
we are not pushing, we just want the same treatment as SINGAPOREANS.

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