National Library Board (NLB) recently banned from libraries three children’s books featuring same-sex couples which led to nearly 5,000 people signing an open letter and a petition calling for the books to be put back.
“I understand these reactions, which reflect a deep-seated respect in our culture for the written word,” said Minister of Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in a statement adding that he has now instructed libraries to place two of the three books but in the adult sections.
Ibrahim however said he supported the decision to ban the books which the state-run library board’s chief executive Elaine Ng said was done to keep these titles off its shelves as they were unsuitable for children.
One of children’s books And Tango Makes Three depicts the story of a couple of male penguins in a New York zoo who adopt a young penguin chick while the other The White Swan Express looks at adoption including those of a lesbian couple.
One other such book which every public library in Singapore has pulped is Who’s In My Family that discusses different types of families, including references to gay couples.
“I have instructed NLB not to pulp the two other titles, but instead to place them in the adult section of the public libraries. I have also asked NLB to review the process by which they deal with such books,” Ibrahim said.
“The decision on what books children can or cannot read remains with their parents. Parents who wish to borrow these books to read with their children will have the option to do so,” the minister added.
Gay rights are a contentious issue in Singapore, with many either wanting a retaining or abrogation of a British colonial-era “Section 377A” law that criminalizes sex between men with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years.
The government claims it does not actively enforce that ban but many Christian and Muslim religious groups want no debate on discarding the law and have become vociferous in opposing gay rights ever since Singapore last month witnessed its largest gay-rights rally with 26,000 people attending.