Section 377A in Singapore’s Penal Code criminalises sex between two men, even if it is consensual. Although the government has promised that it will not be “proactively enforced”, it still means that technically all gay men in Singapore are in danger of becoming criminals, and being prosecuted as such. It means that children in Singapore are taught that homosexuality – especially if you’re both men – is a potential crime, which becomes a source of pain and confusion for gay youth. It means that gay men could be hesitant about getting tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) or for AIDS, which means that efforts to contain and treat such infections will be made more difficult, and any scientific or medical research into this area will be restricted.
But hey, why the fuss? Let’s just “agree to disagree”, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
PM Lee defended the legislation at the Singapore Perspectives conference hosted by the Institute of Policy Studies, saying, “Why is that law on the books? Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it.”
Because it’s always been there. Not only has the Prime Minister failed to support the rights of a large number of his citizens, it seems like he can’t even be bothered to give a proper excuse.
Imagine if laws that discriminated against people based on race were never repealed, because they’ve always been there. Imagine if laws that prevented women from voting were never amended, because they’ve always been there.
If “because it’s always been there” becomes the excuse for everything, then what would ever change?
Furthermore, that statement isn’t even true. Saying “it’s always been there” makes Section 377A sound like some fact of life that has existed since the dawn of time. But Section 377A is a man-made law, its origins stemming from archaic beliefs. In fact, Section 377A itself was only added in 1938 in the Straits Settlements, and kept unchanged under the Singapore Penal Code in 1955. So no, it has not “always” been there.
The prime minister also emphasised that the struggle for gay rights does not end even in countries where homosexual sex is not criminalised. That logic is clearly flawed; even if the repeal of Section 377A does not end the struggles of gay people, is that sufficient justification to continue discriminating against the LGBT community in Singapore?
All this does not hide yet another issue: by indicating that Section 377A will stay, is PM Lee in danger of being in contempt of court? After all, the High Court is still due to hear two cases challenging Section 377A, and therefore has not yet made a decision as to the constitutionality of the section. When the issue was heating up last week due to comments made by some conservative Christian pastors, the Attorney-General’s Chambers had issued a warning that “calculated to affect the minds of the courts hearing the case” will constitute sub judice and be in contempt of court.
If comments made by pastors – and the consequent rebuttal from gay rights advocates – were enough to warrant a warning from the AGC, what more a prime minister declaring that we should leave Section 377A alone?