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Section 377A in the spotlight again

Section 377A of the Penal Code that criminalises sex between consenting adult men has once again surged into public discourse, after the Indian Supreme Court struck down a similar version of the colonial-era law on Sept 6. Some prominent Singaporeans, including veteran diplomat Tommy Koh, have publicly urged a court challenge to the law in Singapore. Disc jockey Johnson Ong is taking up the issue, arguing that an earlier 2014 court decision - that the law is not unconstitutional - is wrong, given international judicial developments since then, including in India.

Today's debate on the gay sex law is taking an interesting turn, with a renewed focus on the judicial aspects of the issue. Public discussion on the issue has tended to focus on the moral and legislative dimension. In 2007, Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong tried and failed to get the law changed in Parliament after a heated debate. The prevailing situation is what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has termed "an uneasy compromise" - keeping the law intact so that it remains unrevised after two rounds of Penal Code reforms, but with the authorities not actively enforcing it. Critics say the status quo position erodes respect for the rule of law. But given the polarising views, it is understandable that legislators prefer to follow, not lead, social attitudes on this issue. Religious leaders, on their part, have spoken strongly in favour of keeping the current law.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2018, with the headline 'Section 377A in the spotlight again'. Print Edition | Subscribe