23 Apr 2007

singapore's lee kuan yew questions gay sex law

Nearly a decade after his widely quoted remarks about the gay issue in Singapore in a 1998 CNN interview, former PM Lee Kuan Yew again commented on the issue over the weekend - this time acknowledging that homosexuality might be genetically determined and questioned the city-state's ban on sex between men.

Speaking at a weekend meeting with the youth wing of the People's Action Party, Singapore's ruling political party, Singapore's founding father was quoted as saying by the Straits Times: "If in fact it is true, and I have asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual - because that's the nature of the genetic random transmission of genes - you can't help it. So why should we criminalise it?"

He was replying to a question from Young PAP activist Loretta Chen, who feels that current censorship guidelines are ambiguous and had asked where censorship was headed in the next two decades. The theatre director referenced her recent controversial play 251 about Singaporean porn actress Annabel Chong which dealt with pornography, performance art and alternative sexualities.

Referring to homosexuality, Minister Mentor Lee - the father of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - said that it is an issue that "raises tempers all over the world, and even in America," further noting that there is a "strong inhibition" in all societies - be they Christian, Islamic, Hindu or Chinese.

"And we are now confronted "with a persisting aberration."

"But is it an aberration?" he asked.

"It's a genetic variation.

"So what do we do? I think we pragmatically adjust, carry our people...don't upset them and suddenly upset their sense of propriety and right and wrong.

"But at the same time let's not go around like this moral police...barging into people's rooms. That's not our business.

"So you have to take a practical, pragmatic approach to what I see is an inevitable force of time and circumstance."

In 1998, Lee responded to a question from an unnamed caller, who asked for the then Senior Minister's view about the future for gay people in Singapore during a call-in program on CNN International.

Lee replied: "Well, it's not a matter which I can decide or any government can decide. It's a question of what a society considers acceptable. And as you know, Singaporeans are by and large a very conservative, orthodox society, a very, I would say, completely different from, say, the United States and I don't think an aggressive gay rights movement would help. But what we are doing as a government is to leave people to live their own lives so long as they don't impinge on other people. I mean, we don't harass anybody."

Section 377A of the Penal Code currently provides for a 2-year jail term for "any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person."

The Home Affairs Ministry announced last year that although anal and oral sex in private among between consenting heterosexual adults will soon be decriminalised as part if the citystate's first major penal code amendments in 22 years, it would retain the ban on sexual acts between men. The ministry later added that it would not be 'proactive' in enforcing this law against consensual acts that take place in private.

Was MM Lee Kuan Yew asking a rhetorical question when he said, "Why should we criminalise it [homosexuality]?" Click here to read more from Alex Au as he picks MM Lee's remarks and related media reports apart.