Workers' Party will not call for repeal of Section 377A, as there is no consensus among its leaders: Pritam

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh also highlighted his concern that turning Section 377A into a political issue may worsen divisions in society. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party will not call for the repeal of a law that criminalises sex between men because there is no consensus within its leadership committee on the matter, said party chief Pritam Singh.

Reiterating the party's unchanged stance on Section 377A, last made in 2007 during a debate on the review of the Penal Code, Mr Singh said: "Even within the party at large, views differ on the matter, a microcosm of Singapore society."

He noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong therefore took the position of an "uneasy compromise" on 377A, where the law will remain on the books but the Government would not enforce it.

Mr Singh made these remarks at the National University of Singapore's Political Association Forum on Wednesday (April 3), and posted his speech on his Facebook page on Friday.

Noting the deepening cultural war between conservatives and liberals, Mr Singh highlighted his concern that turning Section 377A into a political issue may worsen divisions in society.

He observed that some in the conservative, pro-family camp may place a "disproportionate focus on the tangential issue of 377A", when there are other issues such as young people delaying marriage, fewer marriages taking place, more divorces and infidelity.

Meanwhile, some on the liberal, pro-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) side might have "unwittingly weaponised the concept of love for many of those in the middle, particularly those who do not take a position on the matter".

To address this widening gulf, Mr Singh suggested five principles to guide how people can move forward.

The first is to put families first, including single, widowed and divorced mothers, as well as caregivers who now need help themselves.

He added that society must also consider how to better support homosexual friends who are coming out and might face prejudice and depression. "In the final reckoning, I would suggest that our definition of family - a wider Singapore family - should be an enlightened and inclusive one," he said.

The second principle is to not politicise the issue, he said.

"Electoral support for the WP based on Section 377A does not enter into our decisions to field specific candidates. Our candidates' individual conscience about this issue is irrelevant in their selection as candidates. What matters is their integrity, credibility, ability and the depth of their concern for Singapore and Singaporeans."

Similarly, those who try to label WP MPs and candidates as anti-gay or pro-gay are "trying to politicise the LGBT issue and have a hidden political agenda to do so".

The third and fourth principles are to continue the dialogue, and respect individual conscience among WP members.

"We will seek to find common ground if there is common ground. If not, we will have to give each other the space to express our own deeply held beliefs and values, without prejudice and without prejudicing another's right to express their views," Mr Singh said.

Lastly, one must rise above the culture war.

"We should not fight over who is more right than the other - we should listen, discuss and debate with the suspicion that we may be wrong, and look for common ground to overcome our difference," he said.

In summing up, Mr Singh said the WP is "committed to strengthening our bonds as a society and one people and empowering Singaporeans to face the uncertain future of disruption and change".

He emphasised that his party will not participate in the culture war over LGBT issues.

"We seek to rise above it. Because the moral courage required to address the issue of Section 377A is not in revelling in the glory of taking absolute stances on what we believe is right, but in lowering ourselves, swallowing our pride and listening to another," he said.

"If all of us do this, then one day we will get to that place where the uneasy compromise we see today transfigures into a unifying consensus marked by a tolerance and understanding befitting of the Singapore that respects both the public and private space, and a Singapore we all will be proud of leaving behind for the next generation."

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