Buddhist leader supports 377A repeal

Buddhist Fellowship president speaks in personal capacity; activist group holds townhall

An aerial view of lights in a Pink Dot formation during the event's 10th iteration at Hong Lim Park, on July 21, 2018. ST PHOTO: SONG TAO

The Buddhist Fellowship's president said yesterday that he supports repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men.

Separately, the group behind the latest attempt to repeal the law held its first townhall, where it urged the public to contact their MPs - the first time the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement has asked its supporters to engage politicians on a large scale.

In a statement posted on the Buddhist Fellowship's Facebook page, its president Lim Phang Hong said Buddha's teachings encourage Buddhists to develop understanding and care for all communities, regardless of their race, religion, language or sexual orientation.

He told The Straits Times that he was speaking in a personal capacity and wanted to explain Buddha's teachings, as he was concerned that people might have a wrong view of Buddhism on the 377A matter.

Citing the Metta Sutta, a Buddhist text that states that one should cherish all living beings with a boundless heart, Mr Lim said: "In this same spirit of care, empathy and compassion, I support the repeal of any law which criminalises, discriminates or marginalises particular groups. We seek to reconcile marginalised communities with society in a way that promotes respect and harmony across different communities in Singapore and the world."

The Buddhist Fellowship is a non-sectarian organisation that aims to serve Buddhist practitioners across three different traditions of Buddhism. Its website said that the group has a few thousand members.

Several religious organisations in Singapore have spoken out against repealing the law, including the National Council of Churches of Singapore and the head of the Catholic Church in Singapore, who said the law should not be repealed under the present circumstances. The Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) said a repeal of Section 377A could cause several "worrying implications".

A petition arguing for the retention of Section 377A has garnered nearly 109,000 signatures.

At the Singapore Management University, the townhall by Ready4Repeal drew 818 participants. The group shared updates on the petition submitted to the Government, and laid out the next steps.

Speaking after several LGBT people shared how 377A emboldened others to harm them, petition co-author Johannes Hadi urged those present to take their stories to their MPs. "Stories are how you can change the conversation because if you don't speak up, the Government and society will take this as proof that there's no hatred and suffering," he said.

Disc jockey Johnson Ong filed a case in the High Court on Sept 10 arguing that the law is unconstitutional, and that a 2014 court decision was wrong.

The Ready4Repeal petition was submitted to the Home Affairs and Law ministries last Friday. It had received 44,650 signatures.

Asked about the petition, a spokesman said the ministries have received the petition. "As the Government has recently made clear, however, there are no plans to repeal Section 377A."

The Supreme Court of India's decision on Sept 6 to strike down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which made consensual gay sex a crime, renewed the debate about Section 377A here.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2018, with the headline Buddhist leader supports 377A repeal. Subscribe