Govt speaking with diverse groups on gay sex law Section 377A, will seek to balance viewpoints: Shanmugam

The Government will consider the various views carefully as it decides on the next steps for Singapore, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said on Monday (April 4) that the Government has been consulting with and will continue to speak to diverse groups of Singaporeans to better understand their viewpoints on a law criminalising sex between men.

It will consider the various views carefully as it decides on the next steps for Singapore, he added.

Mr Shanmugam was answering a question in Parliament from Ms Yeo Wan Ling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who asked how the Government is engaging different groups on the issue of Section 377A of the Penal Code.

A recent Court of Appeal ruling on Feb 28 had said the law will stay on the books, but cannot be used to prosecute men for having gay sex, reigniting the debate on whether the law should be changed or repealed.

Several ministers, including Mr Shanmugam, subsequently spoke about the issue, noting that societal attitudes towards marriage and family have changed over time and stating the Government's position 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".

Mr Shanmugam had also said that when societal attitudes change, policies and laws must also evolve, and that every ministry will have to work through the potential impact and consequences of such changes in line with society’s values.

Responding to Ms Yeo’s question on Monday, Mr Shanmugam said that "societal attitudes towards homosexuality have gradually shifted" since the subject was discussed in Parliament in 2007.

He added that there are currently two main viewpoints on the issue and many subsidiary viewpoints.

"On the one hand, the vast majority of Singaporeans are of the view that heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman must remain the bedrock of our society.

"On the other hand, many Singaporeans, including some of those who believe in the traditional family structure, feel that private consensual sex between men should not be criminalised," he said.

"We will consider the various views carefully, and assess the best way forward that tries to balance the different viewpoints."

A recent public survey by government feedback unit Reach on the law, and more broadly on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) issues, had drawn more than 30,000 responses by the time it closed on March 23.

This far exceeded the usual number of several hundred to a few thousand replies to other public polls.

Reach said the feedback will be shared with relevant agencies and could be used within the Government for policy updates and changes.

On Monday, Mr Shanmugam also noted that Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa had filed a related question on the law on which she had requested a written answer.

She had asked what indicators the Government will look at to determine whether society is ready for the repeal of Section 377A, and how these indicators are monitored.

Referring to this, Mr Shanmugam asked Ms Poa and her fellow PSP NCMP Leong Mun Wai to state PSP's position on the law, saying that it will be good to know as it is an important issue.

Ms Poa said: "As the minister has pointed out, there are two different camps with different views on this particular issue. And for us, within the party itself, we also have people with different views. So, this is not an issue that we actually have a consensus on, at this moment in time."

To this, Mr Shanmugam said: "There are many different ways of saying I don't know. So, I assume that Ms Poa is saying either the party has no position, or they don't know what their position is."

Later, in a written reply to Ms Poa’s question, he noted that the PSP does not have a position on whether to retain or abolish the law.

He added that the issue surrounding Section 377A “should not be viewed solely on the basis of discrete indicators”, reiterating that the Government will be speaking to different groups to better understand their viewpoints.

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