Govt looking at how to deal with Section 377A while safeguarding current legal position on marriage

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SINGAPORE - While many Singaporeans agree that sex between men should not be a crime, most also do not want the current position of marriage being between a man and a woman to be changed.

The Government is considering how best to balance this, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Saturday (July 30).

Speaking to reporters, he said the Government has had extensive discussions with different people on Section 377A of the Penal Code.

The provision makes it a crime for a man, whether in public or in private, to commit any act of “gross indecency” with another man, and carries a jail term of up to two years. But the law is not actively enforced, a position that has been reiterated by the authorities since it was discussed robustly in Parliament in 2007.

Mr Shanmugam said the discussions have included religious leaders, grassroots leaders, Singaporeans from different backgrounds, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) groups, and others.

“Many agree that men who have sex with each other should not be thrown into prison. Gay sex should not be criminalised,” he said. “At the same time, most do not want any decriminalisation to cause other major changes. In particular, most people want the current position on marriage to be retained.”

The current position is that the law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, he noted. “People don’t want that to change,” he said. People also do not want any change to the current policies that take reference from this definition of marriage.

“The Government understands this view. We are now considering how best to achieve this balance,” Mr Shanmugam said.

“The two questions we are dealing with are therefore: One, what is to be done with 377A; and two, at the same time, we are also considering how we can safeguard the current legal position on marriage from legal challenges in courts so that it does not get challenged in the courts, like 377A was in a series of cases.”

These matters ought to be discussed and decided in Parliament, and not in the courts, he added.

Speaking on the sidelines of a community event at the Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre, Mr Shanmugam urged people here to avoid taking extreme positions on the issue, and to work out differences calmly for the sake of the country.

There have been several legal challenges mounted against S377A, though they have been unsuccessful.

In February, the Court of Appeal dismissed challenges brought by three men who argued that S377A should be struck down. It ruled that S377A will stay on the books but cannot be used to prosecute men for having gay sex.

Mr Shanmugam was also asked about a recent town hall that called for S377A to remain on the books until there are guarantees to protect the traditional definition of marriage and family.

Last Saturday, about 1,200 people, including Christian and Muslim leaders, took part in the event called Protect Singapore Townhall. It was organised by Mr Jason Wong and Mr Mohamed Khair Mohamed Noor, who argued that retaining S377A was needed to protect families, the institution of marriage, children and freedom.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said on Monday that police reports relating to the town hall were lodged, but it was not taking any action against the organisers as there was no criminal offence disclosed.

The LGBT community here has also been vocal in its bid to repeal S377A, with the most high-profile event being the annual Pink Dot SG rally. Attendees this year were urged to speak up for the change they want to see in Singapore.

Mr Shanmugam called for moderation from both sides and for them “to avoid extreme positions and demands”.

These events illustrate what the Government has been saying for a long time: that if one side pushes too hard, then there will be pushback, he said.

This has happened in many countries. “If it happens here in Singapore, and we are a very small place, the ruptures will tear our social fabric apart, cause a lot of harm,” he said.

This is why the Government has been advocating moderation and to not push positions that can damage society, he added.

“We have to try and deal with issues with an open mind, open heart, avoid extreme positions and avoid extreme demands,” he said. “Move forward and try and be united, work on our differences in a calm way, for the sake of Singapore.”

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