Section 377A: Push by LGBTQ activists for change in other areas will lead to strong pushback, says observer

The Pink Dot rally at Hong Lim Park on June 18, 2022. Singapore is set to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Should lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) activists push for changes in areas such as education and media following the repeal of a law that criminalises sex between men, this will very likely lead to lots of pushback from conservatives, said a social observer.

Dr Mathew Mathews, head of the Social Lab and principal research fellow with the Institute of Policy Studies at the National University of Singapore, noted that it is unlikely that people at both ends of the spectrum will be satisfied with the compromise the Government has struck.

He was referring to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement on Sunday (Aug 21) to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, but amend the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman from legal challenges.

Hopefully, the overarching call for unity that PM Lee stressed so much during the National Day Rally will encourage both sides to find ways to live with this uneasy balance, Dr Mathews added.

In announcing the repeal, PM Lee said that societal attitudes towards gay people have "shifted appreciably".

Dr Mathews, who has conducted studies on sentiments towards LGBTQ people, said perceptions of homosexuality have shifted at least somewhat, compared with 15 years ago.

"However, the shifts have not been uniform across groups, with those who are older, Christians and Muslims still not open to homosexuality, compared with younger groups," he added.

He called the current arrangement "a reasonable compromise" which gets at the heart of what many are concerned about with the repeal of Section 377A - whether this will also mean that gay marriage and other rights will follow.

Several religious groups and observers said on Monday that they respected the move and appreciated the Government's assurances that heterosexual marriages would be protected.

President of National Council of Social Service Anita Fam said the move "will provide a position of incontrovertible clarity and as such, the court's resources will not be wasted".

"Sex between two men is a private act between just themselves, and the consequences of that act together do not impact anyone else," she added.

Families for Life council chairman Ishak Ismail noted that the safeguard to protect marriages will prevent "any other shifts in our societal norms".

For the Islamic community, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association stressed that Islamic values do not depend on state law.

Muis said: "The best way to preserve our religious practices and way of life is by actively educating and imbibing Muslims with values and principles."

It noted that some profess the Muslim faith but face their own struggles as they seek to privately reconcile their faith and sexuality.

Anyone who practises the basic tenets of the religion is still a member of the Muslim community, Muis said.

Reverend Dominic Yeo, general superintendent of The Assemblies of God of Singapore group of churches, called the repeal "only the tip of the iceberg" and added that the Government has an uphill task to protect marriage in the Constitution so that future shifts in popular culture will not lead to Singapore losing its "uniqueness of being a first-world nation with strong stable family values".

Mr Thomas Chua, president of Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, said one of its concerns is a possible push to legalise same-sex marriage. He urged groups to find common ground so Singapore can avoid becoming polarised.

Dr Gerard Ee, chairman of the Charity Council and the Agency for Integrated Care, and a former Nominated MP, who is a Catholic, said he is not concerned by gay couples as long as the institution of marriage is not being challenged.

"In the long term, those of us who believe in the traditional interpretation of marriage must do our part to promote it, educate our children on it and not depend on laws to protect the institution of marriage."

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