Opinion: Should Singapore’s Section 377A be ‘trimmed’?By Kirsten Han Feb 24, 2013 11:14PM UTC
With two cases challenging Singapore’s anti-gay law pending in the High Court, the country’s Law Minister has met with both LGBT groups and church members to discuss the country’s stance on gay rights. While LGBT advocates want to see Section 377A – which criminalises sex between men – repealed, conservative church leaders insist that it be retained.
While refraining from commenting on the constitutionality of the legislation, The Straits Times‘ journalist Andy Ho suggests another way in which the dilemma could be resolved. In his article he suggests that the law be ‘trimmed’; that is, reworded so that the law is able to satisfy both parties. Ho suggests that Section 377A be reworded so as to outlaw gay and lesbian sex, but only in public. In fairness, he also suggests that mirror provisions be made to cover straight men and women as well.
What Ho doesn’t mention is that there are already laws that can cover these offences: Section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences Act outlaws “any riotous, disorderly or indecent behaviour” in public while Section 294A criminalises “any obscene act in any public place”. Although Tan Eng Hong – one of the men bringing up a constitutional challenge in court – was first charged with 377A, he was later charged under 294A. This shows that there is already provision to punish indecent public acts without 377A, trimmed or not.
Ho’s suggestion also raises another question: how far should the State go to be ‘balanced’ and accommodate all points of view? Do all issues really have to address both sides? And even if all issues have multiple perspectives, does it automatically follow that all perspectives are valid?
The answer is no. There is no reason why we should constantly bend backwards to accommodate everyone; there are situations where one argument is clearly more valid than the other. In the context of 377A, I would argue that the LGBT advocates have the upper hand: all they are asking is for a discriminatory law to be removed, so that all Singaporeans can be treated equally under the law. They are not asking for the right to have sex in public; there are already laws that cover that, proving that the only reason for 377A’s existence is to isolate and discriminate against homosexuals.
Church leaders like Lawrence Khong, on the other hand, are demanding that a law that discriminates against a significant portion of Singapore’s population be retained simply because they don’t approve of homosexuality. They provide very little justification for why it is so important to have a law that specifically targets homosexuals. The reasons that they do supply are very quickly reduced to “my religion says so” – an argument that should not influence policy and legal decisions in a secular society.
Everyone has a right to their opinions. But this doesn’t mean that the State is required to twist and contort to accommodate all these opinions. It doesn’t mean that the State has to continue with a law that singles out a particular segment of society just to please another segment of society. If there is discrimination in our laws, the government should act regardless of how loud the other side shouts.