Singapore's religious leaders outline positions on repeal of gay-sex law

(From left) Archbishop William Goh, Taoist Federation chairman Tan Thiam Lye and Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir. They were among those Cabinet ministers have engaged as the Government considers the best way forward on the law. PHOTOS: GIN TAY, ST FILE, MUIS

SINGAPORE - The decision on whether to do away with a law that criminalises sex between men is one for the Government to take, and the Catholic Church here takes a neutral position on repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code, said Archbishop of Singapore William Goh.

As long as the rights of the Church and the religious are protected, and they can continue to teach what they believe is right, the Church will not oppose any repeal of Section 377A, he added in a recent interview.

The issue of whether the law should be changed or repealed resurfaced after the Court of Appeal ruled in February that it will stay on the books but cannot be used to prosecute men for gay sex.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church was among religious leaders, Singaporeans and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups Cabinet ministers have engaged in recent weeks as the Government considers the best way forward on the law.

Religious and LGBT groups have seen this as signalling imminent policy change, and issued statements to state their position.

Responding to questions about the matter, Archbishop Goh emphasised that whether the law should be repealed is for the Government to decide. He said: "For us, we are neutral so long as our rights are protected. That's all. We don't want to criminalise people."

He was referring to the Catholic Church's rights to maintain its position on marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and that the family unit comprises a father, mother and their children.

Several other religious leaders have stated similar positions.

Taoist Federation chairman Tan Thiam Lye told The Straits Times when asked: "We neither oppose nor support repeal (of Section 377A)."

Sikh Advisory Board chairman Malminderjit Singh said repealing Section 377A will be a pragmatic move, since the law has not been enforced.

But he added that from the point of view of the Sikh faith, this should be balanced with the strengthening of the concept of marriage and a family unit as being between a man and a woman.

Earlier this year, Singapore's top Islamic leader, Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, said in an interview with The Straits Times that the LGBT issue is a very complex matter, but there was also a need to work harder and move faster towards some resolution, as people expect religious leaders to provide guidance on the matter.

Although Islam's position on homosexuality is clear - that it is not permissible - many values in the religion are rooted in compassion, kindness and inclusivity, even in dealing with prohibitions in religion, Dr Nazirudin had said.

He urged the community not to reject Muslims who do not practise certain aspects of the religion, but instead to find a constructive way of coexisting while reminding one another to uphold the faith.

Census 2020 found that among Singapore residents aged 15 years and above, 31.1 per cent identified themselves as Buddhists, 8.8 per cent as Taoists, 15.6 per cent as Muslims and 5 per cent as Hindus. Those who identified as Christians made up 18.9 per cent, of whom 36 per cent, or 6.7 per cent of the resident population, are Catholics.

The Alliance of Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of Singapore has cautioned against doing away with Section 377A, describing it as "a marker for many social and moral considerations".

In a statement last Friday, it warned that repealing the law, "without placing an equally weighted proscription in place", would lead to wide-ranging negative social consequences, such as rewriting of the norms of acceptable sexual relationships.

It would also spur "a brand of intolerant and aggressive LGBT activism which seeks to impose its ideology upon Singapore society", said the alliance.

It called on the Government to put in place other "clear moral markers, not ambiguities, of the values that we want promoted, and protected".

Religious groups have also expressed concern that any repeal could encourage and embolden LGBT activists to push for same-sex marriages to be recognised, and have called for greater protection for marriage.

A photo from June 18, 2022, shows attendees at the Pink Dot rally in Hong Lim Park. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

The alliance, which represents a network of churches, Christian organisations and pastors, hopes that the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman will be enshrined in the Constitution.

Last month, about 1,200 people, including Christian and Muslim leaders attended a private gathering called Protect Singapore Townhall to discuss the impact of a repeal, and pushed for safeguards to protect marriage, family, children and the freedom of conscience.

About a week later, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam noted that most people want the current position on marriage to remain, and said the Government is considering how best to strike a balance between dealing with the law and safeguarding the current legal position on marriage from challenges in courts.

A town hall attended by about 1,200 people was held on July 23 arguing for Section 377A to remain. PHOTO: PROTECT SINGAPORE TOWNHALL

Archbishop Goh, in the interview with The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, also said he hoped people would respect the Catholic Church's rights to maintain its position on marriage and family.

Christians and Catholics dread the repeal of Section 377A as they fear it might lead to a situation, as in the West, where people are unable to practise what they believe, and cannot even say that a same-sex relationship is wrong, he said.

"But we have to tell our children: For us, it is not acceptable. So we must have the right to continue to teach (this) in our Catholic schools, for that matter."

He added that the Catholic Church's argument is not against repealing the law.

"We are just saying, we must have the freedom to continue to teach what we believe, practise what we teach as well."

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