Ministries will have to work through impact if Section 377A is repealed: Shanmugam

The Court of Appeal ruled on Feb 28 that the law will stay on the books but cannot be used to prosecute men for having gay sex. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam has said that if a law criminalising sex between men is repealed, every ministry will have to work through the potential impact and consequences, and ascertain what needs to be done in line with society's values.

His remarks on Section 377A of the Penal Code come as the subject was raised twice during the Budget debate in Parliament, after the Court of Appeal ruled on Feb 28 that the law will stay on the books but cannot be used to prosecute men for having gay sex.

Speaking on Thursday (March 10) at the State of the Family 2022 forum, organised by Christian non-profit organisation Focus on the Family Singapore, Mr Shanmugam was asked if the Government was going to change the law and about the potential "ripple effects".

The minister was also asked if there would be changes to sexuality education in schools if the law was repealed, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on its website on Friday.

Mr Shanmugam, who had stated the Government's position on Section 377A in Parliament on March 3, declined to give his personal views on the matter.

He said he could not go beyond what he had said in Parliament, and that the statement in Parliament was a carefully considered one. He had noted the changing societal attitudes towards marriage and family as he stated that Singapore will uphold "a stable society with traditional heterosexual family values, but with space for homosexuals to live their lives and to contribute to society".

He had also said that public policies, along with legislation, will need to evolve to keep abreast of changes in views in society.

At Thursday's forum, he reiterated that "social attitudes and views have changed, and when these change, our policies and laws must also evolve", MHA said.

"He emphasised that there are two valid and important viewpoints that the Government will have to consider in dealing with this matter," said MHA.

One view is that a vast majority of Singaporeans believe the heterosexual marriage, between a man and a woman - as provided in the Women's Charter - remains the fundamental building block of society.

The other view, which Mr Shanmugam said was not necessarily an opposing view, is that many Singaporeans - including many who believe in the traditional family institution - believe private consensual sex between men should not be criminalised. They want to see Section 377A repealed.

Mr Shanmugam said the concern of many was not Section 377A per se, but what the consequences would be if the law was repealed, said MHA.

"This is something the Government was aware of and must deal with. The Government will need to have frank and honest discussions with different groups and stakeholders, before deciding on next steps," the ministry added, summing up his views.

At the forum, the minister also spoke on the importance of families as basic, essential building blocks of society, and on policies and plans that support the family structure. These include public housing, tax rebates, cash benefits and various leave benefits.

Mr Shanmugam was also asked what he would personally desire to see as the state of the family five years down the road, MHA said.

He said he would hope to see more family formation, a reversal of Singapore's total fertility rate - which he acknowledged was not going to be easy - and that family bonds continue to be strengthened.

He also expressed his wish for seniors to age in place, with more basic healthcare and other services brought to the community and homes.

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