The following are extracts of the debate on the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill pertaining only to Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Siew Kum Hong's Parliamentary Petition to repeal Section 377A.
- 1 Siew Kum Hong
- 2 Ho Peng Kee
- 3 Christopher de Souza
- 4 Zaqy Mohamad
- 5 Sylvia Lim
- 6 Siew Kum Hong
- 7 Indranee Rajah
- 8 Thio Li-ann
- 9 Alvin Yeo
- 10 Hri Kumar Nair
- 11 Baey Yam Keng
- 12 Ho Geok Choo
- 13 Ong Kian Min
- 14 Cynthia Phua
- 15 Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim
- 16 Lee Hsien Loong
- 17 Charles Chong
- 18 Lim Biow Chuan
- 19 Seah Kian Peng
- 20 See also
- 21 References
- 22 Further reading
- 23 Acknowledgements
Siew Kum Hong
(See video of speech:)
Mr Speaker, Sir, I present to Parliament a Petition under Standing Order No. 18. The Clerk has endorsed this Petition as being in accordance with the rules of Standing Order No. 18(5).
This Petition is presented on behalf on Mr George Bonaventure Hwang Chor Chee, Dr Stuart Koe Chi Yeow, Ms Tan Joo Hymn, and others of like opinion. Including the three petitioners that I have named, there are a total of 2,341 valid signatures.
Sir, the material allegations contained in the Petition concern the unconstitutionality of section 377A of the Penal Code. If and when the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill is passed, private consensual anal and oral sex between heterosexual adults will be permitted, but the same private and consensual acts between men will remain criminalised, due to the retention of section 377A.
The petitioners argue that this is an unconstitutional derogation from the constitutional guarantee of equality and equal protection of the law as set out in
Article 12(1) of the Constitution. The petitioners ask this House to repeal section 377A in light of this.
The petitioners pray, and I quote:
"By this Petition, the Undersigned pray that Section 377A of the Penal Code (Cap. 224) be repealed."
I will now hand the Petition to the Clerk.
Ho Peng Kee
(See video of speech:)
Next, Sir, section 377A which criminalises acts of gross indecency between two male adults will be retained. Public feedback on this issue has been emotional, divided and strongly expressed with the majority calling for its retention. Sir, Singaporeans are still a largely conservative society. The majority find homosexual behaviour offensive and unacceptable. Neither side is going to persuade or convince the other of their position. We should live and let live, and let the situation evolve, in tandem with the values of our society. This approach is a pragmatic one that maintains Singapore's social cohesion. Police has not been proactively enforcing the provision and will continue to take this stance. But this does not mean that the section is purely symbolic and thus redundant. There have been convictions over the years involving cases where minors were exploited and abused or where male adults committed the offence in a public place such as a public toilet or back-lane. Sir, whilst homosexuals have a place in society and, in recent years, more social space, repealing section 377A will be very contentious and may send a wrong signal that Government is encouraging and endorsing the homosexual lifestyle as part of our mainstream way of life.
Christopher de Souza
The retention of section 377A is a non-amendment. Yet, its retention has attracted the most press. Some argue to repeal it and provide reasons to support their position. Others say repeal because the law is archaic, not abreast with the times, displays Singapore to be inflexible.
I do not agree with this position and provide a number of arguments in support of retaining section 377A and, in so doing, record my support for the Bill.
Consequences of repealing section 377A
The first argument is a basic one. It involves the possible consequences of appealing section 377A. A repeal of section 377A will not merely remove an offence. It is much more significant than that. Because of the concept of negative liberty, the removal of section 377A puts homosexual lifestyle on par with heterosexual lifestyle. It is to accord both lifestyles a sense of parity.
As a result, homosexual lifestyle no longer remains private but travels into spheres traditionally reserved for heterosexual couples. The point I make is this. It is a misconception to argue for the repeal of section 377A on the ground that "what goes on behind closed doors will not affect us, so no point criminalising it". It is also a misconception to argue that "what is private, will stay private" and therefore there is no harm repealing section 377A. Such arguments are incorrect.
The truth of the matter is that if we do repeal section 377A, what is in private will not remain private. There are far-reaching consequences. If it is repealed, arguments can be made that rights accorded to heterosexual couples must be accorded to homosexual couples. This has happened in many jurisdictions - the United States, UK, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, to name a few. In Singapore, we have had recent calls by lobby groups advocating the trumping of minority interests over wider society's preferences and priorities.
This argument is attractive. But, really, what are the consequences? What if section 377A is repealed? Surely, the answer to this must be weighed in the balance. So, let us consider the consequences of repealing section 377A.
One major consequence is the effect that such an appeal may have on the institution of marriage. Take Massachusetts, for example. In the case of Goodridge v the Department of Public Health, the US
Massachusetts court ruled that a law denying marriage licences to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. The court disagreed with the argument that child-rearing was best performed under the care of a heterosexual couple.
It is the same situation in the United Kingdom, except that gay marriages are termed same-sex civil partnerships. In fact, the law in the UK is entrenched in the Civil Partnerships Act of 2004. Under that Act, a civil partnership is defined as a relationship between two people of the same sex which is formed when they register as civil partners of each other. Perhaps, some supporting the repeal of section 377A may say, "Well, that does not matter. That marriage relationship can still be private. It does not pervade common space." Unfortunately, that is incorrect. There has been recent judicial opinion in the United Kingdom that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 grants the same-sex couples the same legal recognition that the law grants to opposite-sex couples. It allows them a formal status with virtually identical legal consequences to those of marriage. Incidentally, the United Kingdom is the jurisdiction with which Singapore law has the most intimate relationship. What happens there could happen here, if section 377A is repealed.
So, this is not a private matter between two consenting male adults. It is a public matter, the effects of which will be felt by all in the wider community.
Adoption by same-sex couples may be the second consequence of a repeal of section 377A. Is this far-fetched? No. The UCLA School of Law reported in March 2007 that, to date, 10 states in the US allow same-sex partners to adopt children as couples. About the same number either implicitly or explicitly state that sexual orientation cannot legally prevent homosexual persons from adopting. The same 2007 report from Williams Institute, UCLA, states that gay and lesbian parents are raising 4% of all adopted children in the United States. Is this just a US phenomenon? No. The International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family stated in a 2002 report that the Danes have since removed the prohibition on same-sex couples adopting, while the Netherlands has expressly legislated to permit such adoptions. This has forced societies to accept what some academics called the modern family in its many variations. Do we want our family-centric culture and the traditional definition of family to be threatened? They will be, if section 377A is repealed. This is not just a private matter.
Another consequence, if section 377A is repealed, is the effect it will have on spousal rights. Same-sex partners may be statutorily entitled to benefits because of their new-found spousal status. This is already the position in some states in the US. Where Massachusetts is concerned, the Goodrich decision now permits same-sex spouses to take advantage of statutes allowing an employee to include his or her spouse in the health insurance coverage. How will we cope in Singapore, where traditional definitions of family and marriage had been the bedrock of the HDB policies? How would it affect the laws of intestacy? Would we then change the definitions of spouse under, say, the CPF Act or Income Tax Act? These are far-reaching consequences.
The last consequence of a repeal of section 377A is its effect on how we may have to educate our children. It flows that with changes in how marriage, the family nucleus and spousal rights are defined, there will be pressure to change our curricula in our schools. Do we want to see our children being taught that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle choice? This is something that we should all think carefully about.
In the light of these consequences, I ask that we do not treat these calls for the repeal of section 377A lightly. It is a misconception to think that repealing section 377A is simply the repealing of an outdated and obsolete offence. Instead, such a repeal would have far-reaching consequences.
Some say that the retention of section 377A does not shield society from harm. I do not think that line of argument is defensible in light of the possible consequences the repeal may bring.
Lack of enforcement
The lack of enforcement is another argument put forward by those advocating a repeal. Whether section 377A is enforced or not is the decision of the Executive. In fact, the Ministry has just confirmed in the Second Reading of the Bill that it has been enforced in certain circumstances. By retaining section 377A, the consequences listed above can be prevented. In any event, enforcement cannot be construed as the sole litmus test for an effective law. The effectiveness of section 377A is seen in what it prevents beyond the act criminalised. For example, to attempt suicide is an offence in Singapore. Yet, how many are prosecuted for it? I dare say a negligible percentage of those who do attempt to commit suicide. Yet, the offence remains on the books even after this amendment because it conveys the message that we do not want people taking their own lives. Will that message become weaker if the offence is taken off the books? Of course, it will. That is why we cannot only be fixated with enforcement.
Scientific arguments that homosexuality is genetic
In recent years, by comparing identical twins to fraternal twins, scientists have attempted to prove a genetic basis for homosexuality. However, such studies are now called into question because the scientists drew their subjects from non-representative samples. Indeed, the earlier twin studies were criticised as being "ascertainment-biased", in that homosexuals with gay siblings were more likely to volunteer for studies. Later twin studies have been drawn from broader, more representative samples. In a recent large-scale study by two universities, ie, Yale and Columbia, researchers concluded that "We find no support for genetic influences on same-sex preferences net of social structural constraints."
However, even if we take the argument that homosexuality is genetic at its best - I do not agree with it - but even if we take that argument at its best case, does that merit a repeal of section of 377A? It does not. Natural predispositions should not translate into exceptions from the law. Genetic or natural predispositions do not translate in removal of related offences. For example, it is a known fact that some members of our society suffer from a medical condition known as kleptomania. However, this does not merit repealing all the offences in the Penal Code relating to theft.
The open letter
I have read the open letter to the Prime Minister seeking the repeal of section 377A. Several points are worth highlighting.
Firstly, the letter states: "a gay man should have exactly the same rights as a straight man or woman," and "Singapore will be woefully out-of-step with the rest of the world should it retain this legislation." I have just read the Petition which was put on the seat, and it seems that the Petition takes the same position. It seems from these words that the letter seeks not just a repeal but an unreserved embracing of the homosexual lifestyle, ie, marriage, adoption, spousal rights and so on.
Secondly, the letter seems to adopt the position that section 377A should be repealed even if "those who disapprove of gay people outnumber those who support them."
Thirdly, the letter claims that section 377A contravenes Singapore's Constitution. Any analysis of the relevant Article, ie, Article 12, must come with a study of the authoritative judgment in Ong Ah Chuan. To my mind, this case will not support the letter's position.
For these reasons, I support the Government's retention of section 377A.
(See video of speech:)
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I will begin my speech in Malay.
(In Malay): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the Penal Code amendments are timely and even necessary, with various developments in society, crime patterns and our social situation. Basically, these legislative amendments aim to continue to preserve Singapore's well-being and security, and tighten our protection. From some changes suggested, we can see how the amendments aim to respect our daily lives as well as our multi-cultural and multi-religious culture. It also ensures our children are safely raised. It is our responsibility to protect our young children as they have the right to grow in a safe situation in this country.
Overall, I support the Government's effort to update the Penal Code to protect our interests. However, there are a few areas that raise concerns and need further refinement. We have to look at the Penal Code changes in totality to bring the benefits and effectiveness of law to all levels of society. I hope that the focus of debate on this Bill will not be dragged into too much attention to heated arguments on homosexual activities under section 377A.
In my view, the Government's status quo stand on homosexual activities under section 377A is for the benefit of society as a whole. The fact is, even though our country is open and receptive to changes and diversity, our society's majority view is still conservative in many aspects of life. But I concede that current points of view, especially amongst youths, are changing to a more progressive one. Homosexual activities, although undoubtedly exist, are still considered a lifestyle outside the mainstream society. From a secular point of view, it is something personal and I feel that it is good to leave it as such. But many of my constituents and community leaders have given feedback that by making the activity not considered as an offence, it can be seen as an endorsement or support and this will divide society. They believe that the Government will make the appropriate decision that will reflect our social situation in Singapore. And this includes the consideration for the Petition presented by NMP Siew Kum Hong in Parliament just now. I feel we should not make the issue a big one, and let us look at the Penal Code amendments from a bigger perspective and for the benefit of the majority of Singaporeans.
(See video of speech:)
Sir, next, I would like to say a few words on the Petition presented by the Nominated Member on section 377A. Sir, the Workers' Party leadership, several months ago, discussed extensively the issue of whether section 377A should be retained or repealed. After much deliberation, we were unable to arrive at a consensus that it should be repealed and, as such, we would not be calling for its abolition.
Siew Kum Hong
Sir, I now turn to the Petition I presented to this House earlier which argues that section 377A would be unconstitutional upon the repeal of section 377. For ease of convenience, I would refer to section 377A as 377A and section 377 as 377.
The Amendment Bill amends 377 to legalise private, consensual anal and oral sex between heterosexual adults. But 377A which criminalises the same acts between men is retained.
This discriminates against homosexual and bisexual men. The amendment of 377 without also repealing 377A is therefore unconstitutional under Article 12(1) of the Constitution which provides that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law. That is because it does not satisfy the legal requirements for derogating from Article 12(1). A valid derogation from Article 12(1) must satisfy the rational nexus test, ie, it must be rationally connected to a legitimate purpose of the statute in question. So we must first consider the purposes of the Penal Code.
The preambles of both the Penal Code and the Amendment Bill are silent on this. So let us turn to what MHA has said. Its public consultation paper on the draft Amendment Bill dated 8th November 2006 stated that: "The review is intended to make the Penal Code more effective in maintaining a safe and
secure society in today's context." So, according to the Government, the objective of the Penal Code is to maintain a safe and secure society. But 377A criminalises consensual sexual acts between men even if it takes place in the privacy of their own homes. How does the private sexual conduct of consenting adults make Singapore unsafe or less secure? Furthermore, criminal lawyers generally accept that the criminal law should be concerned with two elements, and two elements only - harm and culpability - of which, only harm is relevant here.
Professor Michael Hor teaches criminal law at the NUS' Faculty of Law. In a recent article, he explained that criminal activity must entail harm to others that is recognisable and tangible. In other words, if an act does not harm others, then it should not be a crime. This is taught to first-year law students in their first few weeks and, indeed, I recall being taught this over 10 years ago. Professor Hor went on:
"The Government has been strangely silent about the harm that section 377A is intended to prevent. Indeed, consistent statements over a number of years from the highest officials of the land lead any reasonable observer to think that the Government no longer believes, if indeed it did before, that the sort of activity contemplated by section 377A is harmful at all. If corroboration were required, it lies in the repeated assurances of the Government that section 377A will not be enforced - apparently because there is no harm to be prevented, no offender to be rehabilitated, no potential offender to be deterred, and no victim to be satisfied.
One might, of course, disagree with the Government's position on the harmfulness of section 377A activity, but once that position is taken, how can it be right for section 377A activity to remain a crime?"
The Law Society, in its submission to MHA on the draft Amendment Bill, similarly noted:
"... the criminal law's proper function is to protect others from harm by punishing harmful conduct. Private consensual homosexual conduct between adults does not cause harm recognisable by the criminal law. Thus, regardless
of one's personal view of the morality or otherwise of such conduct, it should not be made a criminal offence."
Private consensual sexual acts between adult males do not impact on the safety and security of society. Furthermore, it is accepted that the criminal law addresses activities that harm others, but the Government seems to think that the activities governed by 377A do not cause harm. So how can 377A possibly be linked to a legitimate purpose of the Penal Code? The answer is that it does not and it cannot. And the Government has effectively admitted this. It does not seek to justify the retention of 377A on grounds of societal safety and security or of harm to others from the conduct contemplated by 377A. Instead, its reasons for retaining 377A are that the majority of Singaporeans disapprove of homosexuality and so 377A should be retained to reflect or "signpost" this majority view of Singaporeans. But reflecting the morality of the majority is not a stated aim of the Penal Code nor is it an accepted objective of the criminal law.
Clearly, then, 377A has no rational connection with any legitimate aim of the Penal Code. Its retention, which leads to different treatment of men engaging in oral and anal sex, and of heterosexual adults doing the same, without any legally acceptable justification, must therefore be unconstitutional. I would even argue that there can be no legitimate aim of the Penal Code with which 377A can be rationally connected so as to justify its retention. The amendment of 377 permits heterosexual adults to engage in private, consensual oral and anal sex. By definition then, we are saying that there is no harm arising from such private and consensual acts between heterosexual adults.
Why should it be any different when those acts are performed between adult men? What is the differentiating factor that leads to harm? There is none. There is no harm that would be recognised by the criminal law. It is not harm that results from such acts being performed between adult men, but the moral disgust that the majority says it feels. But there is a very good reason why the criminal law should not reflect public morality. And that is because doing so can lead to the discriminatory oppression of minorities.
In times past and in other countries, public morality and disgust have been used to justify slavery; discrimination against racial and religious minorities; and discrimination against women, including not permitting them to work or to vote. All of these are now universally recognised as being wrong and immoral. Let us not perpetuate or repeat the mistakes of others in the past.
Sir, the "signposting" argument is fundamentally flawed. It is couched in the language of "the majority". But let us not forget another phrase involving the majority: the tyranny of the majority. That is precisely why the constitutional guarantees of equality and equal protection are entrenched as a fundamental liberty in Article 12(1).
Even if we accept the "signposting" argument, the Amendment Bill seems to reflect public morality in a selective and discriminatory manner. It is surely undisputed that society views extramarital sex as immoral. And, surely, most Singaporeans disapprove of prostitution and all types of discrimination, such as age, racial and gender discrimination. But we have not criminalised any of these.
Indeed, the Amendment Bill even repeals section 498, which makes it an offence for a man to entice, take away or detain a married woman with the intent of having illicit intercourse with her. The reason given is that it is an archaic offence which is no longer relevant in today's context.
But public morality in today's society remains firmly opposed to extramarital sex. So why do we selectively reflect public morality with respect to private, consensual acts between adult men, but not public morality on adultery? Why are we not "singposting" society's disapproval of adultery by retaining section 498, without proactively enforcing it? The Senior Minister of State has argued that repealing section 498 is not an endorsement of adultery or pre-marital sex. In the same way, repealing 377A is also not an endorsement of homosexuality. The inconsistency is discriminatory. And taking the signposting argument to its logical conclusion, if we repeal section 498, are we then telling the world that seducing a married woman, hence leading to adultery, is acceptable? By lifting marital immunity in limited circumstances, are we endorsing marital rape in the other circumstances?
Signposting is all or nothing. We cannot signpost selectively, with some provisions reflecting public morality and others not. It does not work that way. It is a fundamentally flawed argument that does not stand up to logic or
reason or the principles of a democratic society, and so we should shy away from it.
Sir, Mr Cheng, a Singapore graduate student in the US, emailed this to me:
"Retaining section 377A on the basis that the 'conservative' majority is uncomfortable with homosexuality sets a dangerous precedence for our society.
It suggests that any majority group can now regulate the private activities of a minority group because it is uncomfortable with it or feels threatened by it.
Imagine what this means for the many majority-vs-minority faultlines within the Singapore society - Chinese vs others, citizens vs non-citizens, heartlanders vs cosmopolitans, a majority religious group vs a minority one.
Breeding the majority group's self-righteousness to demand deference from the minorities will weaken the social cohesion of our society based on mutual respect and tolerance.
The repeal of section 377A will make a clear statement on how, in Singapore, we will always have to find ways to live harmoniously with people who are not like us."
Sir, many people have described the repeal of 377A as a "slippery slope". I think Mr Cheng has identified the true slippery slope that we face today.
For all of these reasons, I believe the continued retention of 377A to be unconstitutional. I think the arguments in the Petition are valid and correct in law, and so I presented it to Parliament. I humbly ask my fellow Members to consider these arguments and to acknowledge their cogency in this debate.
Sir, that was the Petition. I will now speak on why I support the repeal of 377A, quite apart from its unconstitutionality. Contrary to how many have sought to frame the issue, the repeal of 377A is not a gay issue. It is not about gay rights. It is not just for gays, friends or relatives of gays. No. It is about fairness, justice and non-discrimination. It is about tolerance, understanding and inclusiveness. It is about upholding the fundamental protections afforded by the Constitution, the basic pillars underpinning our country. These are issues for all Singaporeans.
The response to the Petition bore this out. The signatories were a broad and diverse group, showing that the issues cut across all lines and resonated universally with people. Straight and gay, male and female, young, middle-aged and old, civil servants, professionals and students, religious and non-religious, they all signed the Petition. They all understood the guiding light of treating others as you want them to treat you. They were united by the common belief that 377A is unfair, unjust and wrong, and hence should be repealed. And such lengths they went to, to convey the strength of their belief. So many, including straight men, went out to collect signatures on their own accord, without being asked, completely voluntarily. An 18-year-old student collected 70 signatures. Two others collected 150 signatures each. Madam Tan, a 63-year-old mother of two heterosexual sons, collected signatures from her peers. She took it upon herself to do so. She believed that she needed to do it, "for a healthy attitude towards life". She collected five signatures.
Apart from the Petition, there was also an online open letter to the Prime Minister calling for a repeal of 377A. This open letter, which collected 8,120 signatures, was handed to the Prime Minister's Office earlier today. A Mr Goh signed it, and he articulated the universality of the issue when he wrote:
"I must admit that I am somewhat 'homophobic', but I believe that nobody should be discriminated against for his belief or, in this case, sexual inclination. If they make me uncomfortable, I just don't mix in their social circle."
I do not know anything about Mr Goh, but I am humbled by his principled stand against discrimination. It is the right and noble path, standing fast to our principles even in the face of personal dislike. Surely, we can all learn from him.
Sir, the Government has stated that it will not proactively enforce 377A. This may be meant as a compromise, but it is unsatisfactory and problematic. The Law Society has pointed out that this position is an admission that 377A is out of step with the modern world, adding that it risked "bringing the law into disrepute".
I also quote Professor Michael Hor:
"The moral force of the criminal law is blunted if there are crimes which are, the Government assures the public, never to be enforced, and its 'perpetrators' never brought to court and punished.
The criminal laws are the ground rules of our society and if it is to be accorded the respect it deserves, it must be reserved for conduct which the Government considers to be clearly harmful to society."
Sir, the Senior Minister of State has noted that there have been convictions under 377A for cases involving abuse of young persons and acts performed in public. And I completely agree that such instances and such acts should remain criminalised. But 377A, as it now stands, is not limited to those situations and it covers private consensual acts between adults as well. If the Government intends to criminalise only the abuse of young persons and public acts, then 377A should be amended to do this. But it is not being amended.
Furthermore, not proactively enforcing 377A does not mean that its retention is without cost. The Government says that it seeks to reflect the moral values of the majority, but what about the human cost to gay persons and their families? What about the cost to Singapore from those who leave Singapore because of this law? What price, this reflection and endorsement of public morality?
The majority of Singaporeans seem to speak as if the non-enforcement of 377A means that everything is fine. But the majority would say that because they are not the subjects of discrimination, because they are not the minority who have to live under the threat of 377A, which is a sword of Damocles that could fall with a change of policy by the Government of the day.
Sir, let me share with this House the pain voiced by some signatories of the online open letter. Madam Mak is a 69-year-old mother of a gay 40-something son. He and his partner have lived with her for over 13 years. She called them "the best things" that had happened to her in her 69 years in Singapore. She wrote:
"Please tell me, Mr PM, why are you teaching me to be ashamed of them? If this country doesn't want them, where can they go? Please tell me."
Madam K, a civil servant, wrote:
"My son is gay. He came out to me when he was 22. And I was upset and I blamed myself for why my son is gay... I blamed myself all the time. But he is my son. He has not changed since the first day I gave birth to him or
the person he is today. I love him for who he is, for what he is. It sickens me that people think suggests that just because he is gay, our family is not what it is. We are a family. What people do in their private lives should not be an issue to anyone as long as it does not harm anyone else. He does not know I am doing this but I support this repeal. He is my son and he is not a criminal. If I can accept him, his mother who gave birth to him, who are these people who so quickly judge him and condemn him?"
A doctor, who signed off only as "criminal doctor", wrote:
"I am a doctor. People tell me that is a noble profession. My parents are proud of me. My teachers are proud of me. But I am ashamed of myself. Why so? Because I am gay. It does not matter how many lives I save, it does not matter how much suffering I relieve, it does not matter how much good I do, it does not change one shameful fact. I am a criminal doctor."
Sir, please bear with me as I quote one last person. Mr Choo questioned the consequences of repealing 377A. He questioned whether, if 377A was abolished, those who supported its retention would suffer. He asked if they would be, and I quote,
"... "living in constant hardship, hysteria, agony and pain, distress and shame, fear of marriage breakdown, upset with public safety and order", simply due to the knowledge that someone else is legally behaving in what they regard as "gross indecency" in some other bedroom?"
Mr Choo went on:
"Let us be honest and look where the tears and wounds really are. Talk is cheap, anger is free, but pain is costly. And often, such truly divisive loss as section 377A cost lives."
And then, there are those who leave. If we truly believe that every Singaporean counts, if we truly believe that every Singaporean matters, and surely we must when people are our only natural resource, then have we counted the cost of all of those who have left us? I will cite only one example, to show how heavy the cost to Singapore can be.
Mr Alex Liang emailed me a few months back. He is a former Singaporean who has renounced his citizenship and is now a UK citizen. By all objective measures, Mr Liang is someone who would have served the country very well. We had invested heavily in him. He received a sports award for three years running, and was also a humanities scholar. He represented the country in gymnastics, receiving generous training allowances. He speaks eight languages and had excellent academic results. But the moment he completed National
Service, he left for Europe and he stayed there. He had long decided to leave Singapore, as he did not see a viable future for himself in Singapore as a gay man.
Sir, I ask again, "What price, this effort to "signpost" the views of the majority?
Even if we want to signal the majority's disapproval of homosexuality, we do not need to retain 377A. It can be done through other means. Repealing 377A does not mean that society endorses or approves of homosexuality.
Let us learn from the example of the Censorship Review Committee. Its 2003 report noted the distinction between "allowing" and "endorsing", stating that allowing certain content is quite different from, and should not misinterpreted as, an endorsement. The same reasoning applies here.
In any event, this House should be leading and not following. We should lead by example. We should be doing what is right, fair and just, what is constitutional and keeping in spirit with Singapore's cherished principle of equality and non-discrimination. We pride ourselves on doing the unpopular but right thing, so why are we abdicating our responsibilities now?
Sir, I get a little emotional when I hear the "signposting" argument. That is because it claims to signpost values held by this House and by Singaporeans. It purports to proclaim the values that I, as a Member of this House and, as a Singaporean, believe in and want to proclaim.
But what are these values? What is this majority view, what does the majority whose values we want to "signpost" think and say?
For that, I turn to the keep377a.com website. It was set up to solicit signatures for an online open letter in support of 377A. Let me just read some of the messages that have been posted on this website.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Mr Siew, you have three minutes more. Please wind up.
Mr Siew Kum Hong: Yes, Sir. Instead of reading their comments, I will just talk about what I feel that this House should do. I ask this House to "signpost" the values of fairness, justice, non-discrimination, openness and inclusiveness, which are values fundamental to a secular democracy. I ask this House to endorse the view that our people should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas, or simply be different, that ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore, and that we should build a nation where every citizen has a place, where all can live in dignity and harmony. And if those words sound familiar, that is because those were the very words of the Prime Minister in his swearing-in speech in August 2004.
These are the right things to do. Some have said that Singapore is not ready, that this is not the right time. I disagree. I say that there is no wrong time to do the right thing. Now is the time, not to do the pragmatic or easy thing, but to do the right thing. Now is the time, to turn our backs on prejudice, discrimination, intolerance and hatred. Now is the time, for this House, which represents all Singaporeans, to lead by example. Now is the time, to uphold the noble ideals of our founding fathers, ideals upon which our country was founded and which hold our society together. The ideals of a democratic society, based on justice and equality. The ideal of all persons being equal before the law, and all persons having the equal protection of the law. Now is the time, to do the right thing and repeal 377A.
Sir, with that, and for all the reasons I have stated in my speech, namely, the increase of so many maximum sentences without adequate justification, the retention of the marital immunity, albeit in a limited form, and the failure to repeal 377A, I oppose the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill.
I turn now to the comments made by Mr Siew Kum Hong, both in respect of his Petition and section 377A itself. I think I can have some sympathy with the concerns that the gay community or the homosexuals in Singapore have, but I would like to address some specific legal points made by Mr Siew. The entire basis on which the Petition rests is that it is a violation of Article 12(1) of the Constitution which provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. But actually, the submission that has been made by Mr Siew is not quite correct in its interpretation and taken out of context. What Article 12(1) really means, by way of an illustration, would be this. If somebody is charged with theft, for example, you cannot say that, " I will prosecute you if you are a homosexual, but I would not prosecute you if you are a heterosexual." That would be an unequal and discriminatory application of the law. So that is what it means when you say that all persons are equal before the law. We do not look at your sexual orientation in determining whether or not you should be prosecuted or you should be charged.
Article 12(1) of the Constitution and the provisions on equal protection do not mean that the same law applies to every group. An example of this is section 376A on sexual penetration of a minor under 16, irrespective of consent. Because, for someone above 16, you look at consent and you see whether or not that person consented, and then it is fine. But in the case of a minor under 16, there is no consent. The minor may well say, "But the law says that all persons are equal before the law. I am under 16. I give my consent. You should treat me equally as an adult." But we do not argue with that. And why do we not argue with that? We do not argue with that because we recognise that minors are a special group and have to be treated differently and they require certain protection.
Of course, that comes to the issue of whether or not you should treat homosexuals differently. I would come to that in a moment, but I just want to address another legal submission made by Mr Siew which is that we can have a departure from Article 12(1) if there is a rational nexus or legitimate purpose for the statute in question. Then, he went on to say that the purpose in question for the amendments in the Penal Code is that Singapore is a safe and secure society and there is no rational nexus between the keeping of section 377A to this stated purpose.
The first thing I would say is that that purpose was a purpose stated in the public consultation paper of the proposed Penal Code amendments. It does not come from a statute and it is not part of legislation. It is very obviously a summary of the purpose of the amendments. But if you want to take that sort of argument, then what about the distribution of pornographic material? You could, if you want to take the same argument, say that distribution of pornographic material has nothing to do with a safe and secure society as it is
not a threat to persons and property. But all of us accept that distribution of pornographic materials is something that should be regarded as an offence. So in exactly the same way, it is the broader concept of what we regard to be a safe and secure society. When we look at the safety and security of Singapore, we also look at the question of public morals, public decency and public order.
Mr Siew also talked about public morality as being the wrong touchstone. I think he said that public morality has been cited as the basis for legislation to enforce slavery, discrimination against racial and religious minorities, discrimination against women, etc. But in a way, that exactly proves the point. At the time when they had slavery, there were laws in place which reflected the public morality of that time. If you had been in America at that time when they had slaves and you had said to somebody, "You should not have slaves because slavery is wrong", nobody there, at that time, would have agreed with you because the society was such that that was the correct thing at that time. And that is precisely the point because societies do evolve. Clearly, we have evolved to a stage where we now regard slavery as wrong. We certainly regard discrimination on racial and religious grounds as wrong. But in some places, that is still regarded as correct, which just brings us back to the point that in each case, it is a question of what society is prepared to accept.
I come to what is Singapore prepared to accept. I do not think we want to have a situation where we demonise homosexuals. We certainly do not want to regard them as anything less than Singaporeans. But the point is: what does our society want for itself? Societal rules are not purely a matter of free choice. A murderer could say he is free to kill but society disagrees. Murder is a crime. The right to free speech, for example, does not extend to vilifying another race or religion. And once you have different groups that live in a society, you have to accept that there will be some restrictions on behaviour, and particularly so in Singapore, where we have a small land area and a population of diverse races, religions and beliefs. If we have a difference of views then, what do we do?
One group says, "I want this". Another group says, "No, I want that." How do we decide? We have to come down to a decision one way or another and, in most cases, we would go with the majority view, unless there is a reason to protect the minority position. So, under the Constitution, for example, there is no discrimination on the basis of race or religion. Why? Because society as a whole accepts that there should be no discrimination on the basis of race or
religion. But that is not the universal principle. That is something we accept here, but there are some countries where there is institutionalised discrimination on the basis of either race or religion as part of their official policy. And for those countries, they consider it right. But in Singapore, we do not. So, in each case, we have to consider what the society regards as the correct or the right way to decide for that society, and particularly so in a State like Singapore which is a secular state. A secular state's position should be that we go with the majority view unless there is a particular reason to uphold the minority position, and legislation has to be a reflection of the societal norms and what is acceptable to that society.
In this case, the public reaction has shown that the majority of Singaporeans do not agree with or accept homosexual behaviour. I think it will be fair to say that most Singaporeans do not want to see somebody jailed for homosexual practices, but most would definitely not want to see any public demonstration of the conduct. They may be prepared to tolerate it if it is done in private, but they do not wish to see it in public and, very importantly, they do not wish to have their children see it in public. Then, of course, the argument comes, "OK, fine, if we do not do it in public, what if we just do it in private?" And that is where the signalling concern comes in, because people are concerned about the impact that a repeal of section 377A would send.
Many Members may recall that some years back, the Senior Minister had made the statement that the civil service would not discriminate against gays. And that was a progressive statement because it indicates that the civil service would not discriminate against employing a homosexual just because he is a homosexual. That was already an advance of a public position from what we had 20 years ago. I do not think the Government would have made such a statement like that 20 years ago. That shows that we have evolved to some extent where a statement like that can be made. But immediately after that statement was made, I had a number of pastors coming to speak to me to say, "Why is the Government endorsing homosexual behaviour?" The Government was not endorsing. The Government was saying that we would not discriminate against a homosexual in terms of employment because he is a homosexual. But the immediate public perception, at least for many people, was that it is just not discrimination, it is an endorsement. And our society, obviously, has not arrived at the stage where we can just separate the two. It is not as easy as that, and people see it as an important form of public signalling. Therefore, the stance which the Government is taking is, in fact, an exact reflection of what Singapore society in general think, which is that if you really have to do it in private, the Government and the Police will not take a proactive enforcement policy but, at the same time, we do not want to send a message to
everybody that this is correct, because we have to take into account the majority view. And I think that many liberal groups have, for a long time, thought that the Government was exaggerating the extent of the conservatives in Singapore, but that is not so. I appreciate Mr Siew's point that there were many people who would have written, emailed or given support to the Petition on the Internet. But I can tell you that for every one of those, there was someone who emailed us as Members of Parliament to say, "Do not repeal. Keep it. We thank the MPs, we thank the Government for keeping this law."
Sir, when we have a situation like that, when we have one group that feels very strongly to keep the law, and another group that feels strongly to do away with it, what do we do? We have to make a decision. And the obvious decision in such a situation is to maintain the status quo, and to recognise that somewhere along the line, the situation may evolve. It may well change, just as the position on slavery changed, just as the position on a woman being a chattel changed, thank goodness, just as many other things have changed along the way.
Actually, we think about it, that was the conclusion that the Workers' Party arrived at. Members will recall that Ms Sylvia Lim said that the Workers' Party had debated it for a long time, and they basically could not arrive at a consensus. And because they could not arrive at a consensus, they figured that they should let the status quo remain. And until such time when society is ready to move, the Government's position is the correct position, which is - let things develop but, in the meantime, obviously, they have signalled that they will not actively prosecute, although that may be different if the act is done in public, and it certainly may not be the case if a minor is involved. In that way, it is a compromise of sorts, but we always have to have a compromise when we live in a society where there are diverse groups.
Sir, two camps championing two distinct criminal law philosophies are polarised over whether to retain or repeal section 377A, which criminalises public or private acts of gross indecency between two men, such as sodomy.
The "liberal" camp wants section 377A repealed. They offer an "argument from consent", "Government should not police the private sexual behaviour of consenting adults." They opine that this violates their liberty or "privacy". They ask, "Why criminalise something which does not "harm" anyone; if homosexuals are born that way, isn't it unkind to "discriminate" against their sexual practices?"
These flawed arguments are marinated with distracting fallacies which obscure what is at stake. Repealing section 377A is the first step of a radical, political agenda which will subvert social morality, the common good and undermine our liberties.
The "communitarian" camp argues from "community values". These social conservatives want section 377A retained, to protect public health, morality, decency and order. A "Keep 377A" online petition attracted over 15,000 signatures after a few days.
Like many, I applaud the Government's wisdom in keeping section 377A which conserves what upholds the national interest. "Conservative" here is not a dirty word connoting backwardness; environmental conservation protects our habitat; the moral ecology must be conserved to protect what is precious and sustains a dynamic, free and good society.
The welfare of future generations depends on basing law on sound public philosophy. We should reject the "argument from consent", as its philosophy is intellectually deficient and morally bankrupt.
Sir, the arguments to retain section 377A are overwhelmingly compelling and should be fully articulated, to enable legislators to make informed decisions and not be bewitched by the empty rhetoric and emotional sloganeering employed by many radical liberals, which generate more heat than light.
The real question today is not "if" we should repeal section 377A now, or wait until people are ready to move. This assumes too much, as though we need an adjustment period before the inevitable. The real question is not "if" but "should" we ever repeal section 377A. It is not inevitable; it is not desirable to repeal it in any event. Not only is retaining section 377A sound public policy, it is legally and constitutionally beyond reproach. Responsible legislators must grapple with the facts, figures and principles involved; they cannot discount the noxious social consequences repeal will bring. Debate must be based on substance and not sound-bites. Let me red-flag four red herrings.
First, to say a law is archaic is merely chronological snobbery. Second, we cannot say a law is "regressive" unless we first identify our ultimate goal. If we seek to ape the sexual libertine ethos of the wild wild West, then repealing section 377A is progressive. But that is not our final destination. The onus is on those seeking repeal to prove this will not harm society.
Third, to say a law which criminalises homosexual acts because many find it offensive is merely imposing a "prejudice" or "bias", boldly assumes that no reasonable contrary view exists. This evades debate. The liberal argument which says sodomy is a personal choice, private matter and "victimless crime" merely asserts this. It rests precariously on an idiosyncratic notion of "harm". But "harm" can be both physical and intangible; victims include both the immediate parties and third parties. What is done in "private" can have public repercussions.
Fourth, legislators are urged to be "open-minded" and decriminalise sodomy. However, like an open mouth, an open mind must eventually close on something solid. Legislators are urged to be "objective" and to leave their personal subjective beliefs at home, especially if they hold religious views that homosexuality is abhorrent. This demand for objectivity is intellectually disingenuous, as there is no neutral ground, no "Switzerland of ambivalence" when we consider the moral issues related to section 377A, which require moral judgment of what is right and wrong - not to take a stand, is to take a stand! As all law has a moral basis, we must consider which morality to legislate. Neither the majority or minority is always right, but there are fundamental values beyond fashion and politics which serve the common good. Religious views are part of our common morality. We separate "religion" from "politics", but not "religion" from "public policy". That would be undemocratic. All citizens may propose views in public debate, whether influenced by religious or secular convictions or both; only the Government can impose a view by law.
By the way, one does not have to be religious to consider homosexuality contrary to biological design and immoral; secular philosopher Immanuel Kant considered homosexuality "immoral acts against our animal nature", which did not preserve the species and dishonoured humanity.
The issues surrounding section 377A are about morality, not modernity or being cosmopolitan.
What will foreigners think if we retain 377A? Depends on which foreigner you ask. Many would applaud us! Such issues divide other societies as well! A group of Canadians were grieved enough to issue an online apology to the world "for harm done through Canada's legalisation of homosexual marriage", urging us not to repeat their mistakes. These debates are not closed locally or globally. Singapore is an independent state, we can decide our own laws; we have no need of foreign or neo-colonial moral imperialism in matters of fundamental morality.
Sir, there are no constitutional objections to retaining 377A while de-criminalising heterosexual oral and anal sex. Three legal points are worth making.
First, there is no constitutional right to homosexual sodomy. It is not a facet of personal liberty under Article 9. Nor is there a human right to homosexual sodomy though some like to slip this in under the umbrella of "privacy." Human rights are universal, like prohibitions against genocide. Demands for "homosexual rights" are the political claims of a narrow interest group masquerading as legal entitlements. Homosexual activists often try to infiltrate and hijack human rights initiatives to serve their political agenda, discrediting an otherwise noble cause to protect the weak and poor. You cannot make a human wrong a human right.
Second, while homosexuals are a numerical minority as a social fact, there is at law no such thing as "sexual minorities". Activists have coined this term to draw a beguiling but fallacious association between homosexuals and legally recognised minorities like racial groups. Race is a fixed trait. It remains controversial whether homosexual orientation is genetic or environmental, perhaps both. There are no ex-Blacks but there are ex-gays. The analogy between race and sexual orientation or preferred sexual preferences, is false. Activists repeat the slogan "sexual minority" ad nausem as a deceptive political ploy to get sympathy from people who don't think through issues carefully. Repetition does not cure fallacy.
Science has become so politicised that the issue of whether gays are "born that way" depends on which scientist you ask. You cannot base sound public philosophy on poor politicised pseudo "science".
Homosexuality is a gender identity disorder; there are numerous examples of former homosexuals successfully dealing with this. They claim a right of sexual reorientation. Just this year, two high profile US activists left the homosexual lifestyle, the publisher of Venus, a lesbian magazine, and an editor of Young Gay America. Their stories are available online. An article by an ex-gay in the New Statesmen this July identified the roots of his emotional hurts, like a distant father, overbearing mother and sexual abuse by a family friend; after working through his pain, his unwanted same-sex attractions left. While difficult, change is possible and a compassionate society would help those wanting to fulfill their heterosexual potential. There is hope.
Singapore law only recognises racial and religious minorities. Special protection is reserved for the poor and disadvantaged; the average homosexual person in Singapore is both well educated, with higher income, that is why upscale condo developers target them! Homosexuals do not deserve special rights, just the rights we all have.
"Sexual minorities" and "sexual orientation" are vague terms covering anything from homosexuality, bestiality, incest, paedophilia. Do all these minority sexual practices merit protection?
Third, 377A does not breach the Article 12 guarantee of equality. While all human persons are of equal worth, not all human behaviour is equally worthy. We separate the actor from the act. In criminalising acts, we consider their wrongfulness, the harmfulness and consequences on society.
Parliament has the power to classify; this involves a choice, like distinguishing murder and manslaughter. Classifications which satisfy the constitutional test of validity are called "differentiation"; only invalid classifications are called "discrimination". Criminalising same-sex sodomy but not opposite-sex sodomy is valid "differentiation". 377A does not target any specific actor; it would cover a heterosexual male experimenting with male sodomy.
Valid classifications must have a clear basis and be rationally related to a legitimate purpose. In serving public health and public morality, 377A passes constitutional muster with flying colours.
Sir, public health and safety is a legitimate purpose served by the 377A ban on homosexual anal and oral sex. Both these practices are efficient methods of transmitting sexual diseases and AIDs/HIV which are public health problems. These are not victimless crimes as the whole community has to foot the costs of these diseases.
Anal-penetrative sex is inherently damaging to the body and a misuse of organs, like shoving a straw up your nose to drink. The anus is designed to expel waste; when something is forcibly inserted into it, the muscles contract and cause tearing; fecal waste, viruses carried by sperm and blood thus congregate, with adverse health implications like "gay bowel syndrome", anal cancer. "Acts of gross indecency" under 377A also covers unhygienic practices like "rimming" where the mouth comes into contact with the anus. Consent to harmful acts is no defence, otherwise, our strong anti-drug laws must fall as it cannot co-exist with letting in recreational drugs as a matter of personal lifestyle choice.
Opposite-sex sodomy is harmful, but medical studies indicate that same-sex sodomy carries a higher price tag for society because of higher promiscuity and frequency levels. The New York Times reported that even informed homosexuals return to unsafe practices like bare-backing and bug-chasing after a health crisis wanes. A British Study showed that the legalisation of homosexual sodomy correlated with an upsurge of STDs among gays. Common sense tells us that with more acceptance, any form of consensual sexual behaviour increases. Sodomy laws have some deterrent effect.
It is rational for the state to target the most acute aspect of a problem. The legal issue is not whether the state should be concerned with heterosexual sodomy but it is reasonable to believe same-sex sodomy poses a distinct problem. Medical literature indicates that gays have disproportionately higher STD rates, which puts them in a different category from the general public, warranting different treatment. The onus rests on opponents of 377A to negate every conceivable basis for treating homosexual and heterosexual sodomy differently. They cannot, because classifications do not need to be perfect and can be under-inclusive; valid classifications only need to 'go some way' to serve the legislative goal, which 377A clearly does.
Sir, the power to legislate morality is not limited to preventing demonstrable harm. The Penal Code now criminalises the wounding of both religious and racial feelings. 377A serves public morality; the argument from community reminds us we share a way of life which gives legal expression to the moral repugnancy of homosexuality. Heterosexual sodomy, unlike homosexual sodomy, does not undermine the understanding of heterosexuality as the preferred social norm. To those who say that 377A penalises only gays, not lesbians, note there have been calls to criminalise lesbianism too.
Public sexual morality must buttress strong families based on faithful union between man and wife, the best model for raising children. The state should not promote promiscuity nor condone sexual exploitation. New section 376D criminalises the organisation of child-sex tours. Bravo!
The "argument from consent" says the State should keep out of the bedroom, to safeguard "sexual autonomy". While we cherish racial and religious diversity, sexual diversity is a different kettle of fish. Diversity is not licence for perversity. This radical liberal argument from consent is pernicious, a leftist philosophy based on radical individualism and radical egalitarianism. It is unworkable because every viable moral theory has limits to consent. Radical individualism would demand decriminalising consensual adult incest; but the Penal Code is not based on consent as section 376F reflects. The State has always retained an interest in regulating conduct in the bedroom - the issue is, which type?
Radical egalitarianism applied to sexual morality says the State should not morally distinguish between types of consensual sex. It exudes a false neutrality but actually sneaks in a substantive philosophy: hedonism which breeds narcissism. This extols satisfying desire without restraint as a matter of autonomy. But some desires are undesirable, harming self and society. The argument from consent ultimately celebrates sexual libertine values, the fruit of which is sexual licentiousness, a culture of lust, which takes, rather than love, which gives. This social decline will provoke more headlines like a 2004 Her World article called: "Gay guy confesses: I slept with 100 men, one of
them could be your hubby." What about the broken-hearted involved? If you argue from consent, how can you condemn any form of sexual self-expression, no matter how selfish or hurtful? No man is an island. Ideas, embodied in laws, have consequences. Do not send the wrong message. Clearly, the issues raised in the Petition fall apart on rigorous analysis.
Sir, Government policy is not to pro-actively enforce 377A. Some argue that just keeping this law on the books will erode the rule of law. I disagree. It is not turning a blind eye on the existence of homosexuals here; it is refusing to celebrate homosexuality while allowing gays to live quiet lives. This is prudent, as enforcing "bedroom" offences is difficult and such powers must be used judiciously.
We have other hard-to-police laws which embody communal standards of decency, such as laws against nudity visible to the public eye, even if you are at home. Law is a moral teacher and makes a moral statement; six years ago, Singapore symbolically blocked access to 100 Internet porn sites, as a "statement of our values." We value our values, while remaining realistic. A non pro-active policy does not mean 377A will never be enforced, who knows what another season may require? Policies can change. Sir, citizens are not just concerned with the rule of law but with the rule of good law. Laws which violate core moral values will alienate many and bring the system into disrepute. Indeed, many citizens see keeping 377A as evidence the Government is defending the right moral values, which lends legitimacy.
Sir, it is true that not all moral wrongs, such as adultery, are criminalised; yet they retain their stigma. But adulterers know they have done wrong and do not lobby for toleration of adultery as a sexual- orientation right.
Conversely, homosexual activists lobby hard for a radical sexual revolution, waging a liberal fundamentalist crusade against traditional morality. They adopt a step-by-step approach to hide how radical the agenda is. Liberals never ask: what happens next if you repeal 377A? Responsible legislators must see the big picture.
Pro-gay academics identify five main steps in this agenda in foreign country studies.
Step 1: repeal laws criminalising homosexual sex. They consider this pivotal to advancing the homosexual agenda. Why? Without this, they cannot advance in the public sphere or push for government funding and support for special programmes, such as the New York Gay High School. Governments do not promote criminal activities. You need to change the criminal law before changing civil law.
But decriminalising sodomy is only "bing shan yi jiao ", the tip of the iceberg, 12% of an ice mass. We must see what lies beneath the water to avoid a Titanic fate. Step 2 is to equalise the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual sex; in some countries, this is as low as 13. Do we want to expose Secondary 1 boys to adult sexual predators? To be sexually creative?
Step 3 is to prohibit discrimination based on "sexual orientation". But would this not include all sexual behaviour? "Sex before 8 or else it's too late", is the motto of the North American Man Boy Love Association. Should we judge paedophilia or be relativist and promote "anything goes" sexual experimentation?
Sir, to protect homosexuals, some countries have criminalised not sodomy, but opposition to sodomy, making it a "hate crime" to criticise homosexuality. This violates freedom of speech and religion; will sacred texts that declare homosexuality morally-deviant, like the Bible and Quran, be criminalised? Social unrest beckons. Such assaults on constitutional liberties cannot be tolerated.
Steps 4 and 5 relate to legalising same-sex marriage and child adoption rights. This subverts both marriage and family, which are institutions homosexuals seek to redefine beyond recognition. Will MOE then commission a book copying the American, "Heather has 2 mummies" called "Ah Beng has 2 daddies"? What if parents disagree with their kids studying homosexual propaganda?
Is legalising same-sex marriage progressive? It is, if you want a genderless planet where "husband" and "wife" are considered discriminatory terms, to be replaced by "spouse". We want to be able to say, Majulah Singapura, not Mundur Singapura!
Repealing 377A will further batter the institution of "marriage" which we must bolster! This is because the arguments raised to challenge a distinction between heterosexual and homosexual sodomy, equally apply to challenge legal distinctions between lawful heterosexual marriage between man and wife and unlawful homosexual unions.
To reinforce the moral foundations of a pro-family policy that permits only heterosexuals to marry, it is permissible to differentiate between heterosexual and homosexual sodomy. To say that section 377A discriminates is effectively to say that marriage laws discriminate and are unconstitutional.
Legalising sodomy would set a bad example; by signalling approval, it may change both attitude and conduct; coupled with sexual hedonism, it makes a mockery of strong family values. Section 377A helps to protect against this harm.
Academic supporters of the homosexual agenda, like my colleague Michael Hor, argued online that even if section 377A was not enforced, discriminatory policies against homosexuals could be built on the logic of its existence. But taking his logic, repealing section 377A would mean the Government would be less able to resist claims for homosexual marriage or for promoting homosexuality as a desirable lifestyle in schools, as this would be "discriminatory". These foreign developments warn us that the advance of the homosexual agenda here is not remote.
To slouch back to Sodom is to return to the Bad Old Days in ancient Greece or even China where sex was utterly wild and unrestrained, and homosexuality was considered superior to man-women relations. Women's groups should note that when homosexuality was celebrated, women were relegated to low social roles; when homosexuality was idealised in Greece, women were objects not partners, who ran homes and bore babies. Back then, whether a man had sex with another man, woman or child was a matter of indifference, like one's eating preferences. The only relevant category was penetrator and penetrated; sex was not seen as interactive intimacy, but a doing of something to someone. How degrading.
It was only when marriage was invented by the Jewish Torah that the genie of sexual impulses was forced into the marital bottle, so that sex no longer dominated society - this discipline provided the social base for the development of western civilisation. Family is also the building block of our society.
As fellow citizens, homosexuals are entitled to expect decent treatment from the rest of us; but they have no right to insist we surrender our fundamental moral beliefs so they can feel comfortable about their sexual behaviour. We should not be subject to the tyranny of the undemocratic minority who want to violate our consciences, trample cherished moral virtues and threaten our collective welfare by imposing homosexual dogma on right-thinking people. Keep 377A.
Sir, we Singaporeans will continue to debate and disagree over controversial moral issues as they arise. We should make substantive arguments and not think about our feelings; the media should present both sides fairly, without bias.
However, I have noted a disturbing phenomenon over the 377A debate - the argument by insult. Instead of reasoning, some have resorted to name-calling to intimidate and silence their opponents. People with principled moral objections to the homosexual agenda are tarred and feathered "homophobes", "bigots", to shut them up. This strategy is unoriginally imported from foreign gay activists, which stifles creative thinking and intellectual enquiry.
When you shout and call your opponents nasty names, this terminates public debate. No one wants to be called a bigot. But think about it - if I oppose incest, am I an incestophobe? If I oppose alcoholism, am I a winophobe? If having an opinion means you are a bigot, then we are all bigots! What is your phobia?
Where certain liberals accuse their opponents of being intolerant, they demonstrate their own intolerance towards their opponents! They are hoist on their own petard, guilty of everything they accuse their detractors of! Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
One of my colleagues, a young professor, suffered these vicious tactics when the Straits Times published an article this May where Yvonne Lee argued against repealing 377A. This well-researched, cogent article so incensed homosexual activists that they flooded her with a torrent of abusive, lewd emails and wrote to her Department Head calling for her to be removed from her job. This appeared to be a coordinated campaign.
We academics are used to disagreement, but why write to her employer and threaten her livelihood? Why vilify someone and seek to assassinate their personal and professional reputation? I hope this House joins me in deploring these malicious attacks which also assault academic freedom. She is owed an apology. I would be ashamed to belong to any academic institution that cravenly bowed down to such disgraceful bully-boy tactics.
This August, I had my own personal, unpleasant experience with this sort of hysterical attack. I received an email from someone I never met, full of vile and obscene invective which I shall not repeat, accusing me of hatemongering. It cursed me and expressed the wish to defile my grave on the day 377A was repealed.
I believe in free debate but this oversteps the line. I was distressed, disgusted, upset enough to file a Police report. Does a normal person with a conscience to filter impulses, go up to a stranger to express such irrational hatred?
Smear tactics indicate the poor quality of debate and, also, of character. Let us have rational debate, not diatribe and deception, free from abusive rhetoric and childish tantrums. As Singapore approaches her Jubilee, my hope for the post-65 generation is that we will not become an uncivil civil society born from an immature culture of vulgarity which celebrates the base, not the noble.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. You have three minutes left, Prof. Thio.
Prof. Thio Li-ann: Thank you. I speak at the risk of being burned at the stake by militant activists. But if we do not stand for something, we will fall for anything. I was
raised to believe in speaking out for what is right, good and true, no matter the cost. It is important in life not only to have a brain, but a spine.
One of my favourite speeches by PM Lee, which I force my students to read, is his Harvard Club speech two years ago where he urged citizens not to be "passive bystanders" in their own fate but to debate issues with reason and conviction. I took this to heart. To forge good policy, we need to do our homework and engage in honest debate on the issues. Let us also speak with civility, which cannot be legislated, but draws deep from our character and upbringing. Before government can govern man, man must be able to govern himself. Sir, let speaking in the public square with reason, passion, honesty, civility, even grace, be the mark of a Citizen of Singapore. [Applause.]
(See video of speech:)
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, thank you for allowing me to take part in this debate at this late hour. After such powerful moving speeches from our two Nominated Members of Parliament, one is tempted to remain silent. But allow me to respectfully add my perspective.
In the run up to this debate, I read an interview or feature in the New Paper where Mr Siew Kum Hong was asked for his personal background and his reasons for bringing this parliamentary Petition. He replied that his personal background was irrelevant to the issue and that he was bringing this Petition as he supported the principle of equality of treatment, including for those who engage in homosexual conduct.
I should say that I agree with Mr Siew that one's personal background is simply not relevant to the issue and, personally, I applaud Mr Siew for his willingness to subject himself to intense media and public scrutiny for a principle he subscribes to. I say that one's own background and indeed one's own personal views are not what is really important. Because our role as Members of this House is to represent not so much our own views, but those who have placed us in this position of responsibility. This means that one has to take account of not just the minority views but the majority views as well, to not just listen to the vocal, the articulate, the high profile spokesmen for their various causes, but to try and discern the views of the vast and silent segments of the population whose views and feelings run just as strong.
It is generally accepted that a large portion of the population remains uncomfortable with, even troubled, by homosexual behaviour. The Straits Times ran a poll where something like 70% expressed discomfort with these views. Those of the Muslim faith, many with Christian beliefs, oppose the condoning of homosexual conduct. Do their views not have to be taken into account? Is this tyranny of the majority? Some commentators think that it is outmoded for our laws to reflect the moral and social values of the people it governs. I disagree.
In our nation which has, as one of its ingrained principles, the rule of law, indeed it is usually considered one of our competitive strengths as well, the law stands, not just as a boundary line of what conduct will or will not be prosecuted, but as a moral compass of what we stand for. It is a benchmark of our values, our beliefs, not just a reference book to determine when we can sue and when we can be sued. That is why our courts, in interpreting the law, have always required parties to observe not just the letter of the law, but also its spirit and its purpose.
In this regard, I do take issue with the two points that Mr Siew, notwithstanding his forceful and loquacious arguments, has made. The first is that, because the Ministry has said that section 377A will not be proactively enforced, it is an admission that no harm results from it. I think other speakers, more eloquent than me, have spoken of the social and psychological and moral harm that can result from embarking or slipping down the slippery slope. I prefer to think that the stand of the Ministry is not because they recognise that there is no harm, but because they wish to show some degree of tolerance to those who subscribe to different views to give them some space in their personal lives. But they are standing firm on what the principles and beliefs that our society stands for in continuing to have this law on the statute books.
Mr Siew also says that he does not agree with this "signposting" argument because, to him, signposting is an all-or-nothing approach. Again, I have to respectfully disagree. There are certain key markers in all our laws which reasonate through the fabric of our society more than others. For instance, how many of you have heard of section 498 which has to do with enticing a married woman, and how many of you consider that doing away with that law means that this House is permitting adultery or promiscuity? Certainly, from all the press reports, none of them seem to labour under the misimpression that the non-repeal of section 377A was what that particular signpost was about.
One of the points made is about equal treatment for all before the law, including homosexuals, which I think is the central plank of the petition that has been presented. Equality before the law is a fundamental concept. But it cannot be looked at in vacuum. It does not deprive a state, a government, of regulating what it considers to be proper and correct behaviour. It is equal rights for all, as measured against the values and beliefs of our society. And our society is a multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-cultural one. So, for instance, we have an Administration of Muslim Law Act which imposes a separate regime on Muslims in family and estate matters. Yet, we do not hear complaints about unequal treatment from either Muslims or non-Muslims. It is accepted as part of our multi-cultural, multi-religious Singapore.
To take another more recent example, the Human Organ Transplant Act (HOTA), where Muslims are not subject to the same opting-out provisions on account of their religious beliefs.
Even then, discussions and consultations are going on within the Muslim community and outside, to remove this particular difference. Again, the principle of equal treatment of all has to be moderated by our aim of preserving harmony among our different races, of mutual respect for each other's beliefs. I do not believe that anyone seriously contends we should not continue to uphold this.
Having said that, there may be something to be learnt from HOTA and the discussions relating to its possible change. To those who support the removal of section 377A, it is an object demonstration that laws can and do change based on a reconciliation of different views. But such changes, particularly where they involve deeply-held deep-seated religious and moral beliefs, do take time and they cannot be forced. Indeed, I hope that all concerned in this particular lobby effort will be patient and understand that the views of others do count as well and try to give this issue more time and not let it be something that divides our society.
Overall, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the changes to the Penal Code may keep it more relevant to this day and age and are to be welcomed.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, I support the Bill.
Hri Kumar Nair
Let me touch briefly on the issue of section 377A. As Professor Ho pointed out, this is one debate which will not see people switching sides easily. Both proponents and opponents of the law have deeply entrenched views on the subject, and that is unlikely to change for some time. I have personally asked many people, both young and old, what they think of this issue, and the almost common consensus is that they do not want this law to be repealed and that is consistent with the feedback the Government has received.
So I do not wish to engage in a moral debate, and certainly not a long one, and I have no rousing speech to deliver. What I wish to do is to approach it from a lawyer's point of view and how I see Parliament and Parliament's role in making laws.
Sir, as a lawyer, the power of Parliament to make law is of particular interest to me. When judges and lawyers interpret laws, they are, in certain instances, permitted to refer to Hansard to determine the intention behind any word, phrase or provision in a piece of legislation. Parliamentary debates, therefore, play an important role not just in the passing of laws but how they will be understood by those who later apply them. What we say here or do must be consistent with the law we promulgate and also make sense to those who will scrutinise our words perhaps years from now. In my submission, laws must meet the three Cs, ie, be clear, consistent and concrete, meaning that they must be substantive, effective and make sense. What I find difficult about this issue before us is that while the majority do not wish a repeal for good reason, intellectually, section 377A does, in some respects, fall short of what a good law is or should be.
Sir, first, it is unclear what the current legal position is. In a statement on 7th of November 2006, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that, with respect to section 377A, it will not be proactive in enforcing the section against adult males engaging in consensual sex with each other in private. But what does that mean? Does it mean that the Police will not act on complaints or that suspects may be investigated but ultimately not arrested or prosecuted? Or is it the case that the Attorney-General, who has prosecutorial discretion, may prosecute some but not all offenders? That puts the Attorney-General in a difficult position because selective prosecution will give rise to more issues. But if the intention is not to do anything at all, then what is the purpose of having the law? Does it not hurt our credibility that we have laws that are toothless? The Penal Code is an important piece of legislation and, in the long run, making some conduct criminal under our Penal Code whilst stating that the law will not be enforced, simply invites attacks on the integrity of the Code.
Second, we are not being consistent. The retention of section 377A is often justified as being consistent with the importance society places on family values. But society has done away with criminalising a whole host of other conduct, which is far more damaging to family values, such as adultery, which carries a more direct threat to the integrity of the family. And adultery was one of the original Ten Commandments. Further, it is not always true that laws always reflect society's or the moral position. Marital rape is a good example. I cannot imagine any Member of the House believing that it is acceptable for a man to force himself on a woman under any circumstances, regardless of whether they are married. But we do not completely outlaw marital rape. The Bill here certainly protects a woman more by prescribing circumstances under which her husband can be charged with rape, but the protection is not absolute for wives. Why? Over and above the reasons that have been given - and in this respect I share NMP Ms Eunice Olsen's criticisms of those reasons - more importantly, the law knows its own limits and it is practically impossible to properly enforce a law by giving a wife absolute protection. So, likewise, we also accept that the Penal Code is not the appropriate tool to legislate or regulate the private heterosexual behaviour of consenting adults. Indeed, it is almost impossible to effectively do so. In addition, the question arises also why section 377A does not deal with lesbianism. Over and above the legal basis for discriminating between men and women, where is the consistency?
Thirdly, Sir, the law has no real substance. Through a 15-year period, ie, 1988 to 2003, there were only eight convictions under section 377A involving seven incidents. Two convictions were for the same incident. Moreover, it has not been invoked in respect of consensual sex since 1993. So this law is rarely applied or, if applied, it applies to minors or acts in public. Does that mean that private consensual homosexual acts do not happen in Singapore? To believe that would be naive. The truth is that it is virtually impossible to enforce this law. Now that the MHA has said that it will not actively pursue offenders, we are not likely to see any prosecutions in the future, certainly not many.
Sir, I accept that even if a law is difficult to enforce, it can still serve a legitimate purpose in its underlying message, and section 377A sends the message that those who engage in homosexual activities are criminals. But at the same time, we have been saying that our society will not reject those with alternative lifestyles. We have even said that such individuals have a place in our civil service.
It has also recently been said that homosexuality may be genetic, and the debate on this issue is still raging on. Now, the MHA says that it will not prosecute offenders. So what is the message we are sending? Are we for or against it? What do we stand for? While this may be an uncomfortable issue, we should at least make our position clear. Just to cite an example by Mr Christopher De Souza, he says, messaging is important, and he cites the example of suicides, that if we do not make it an offence to commit suicide, we are sending the message that suicide is acceptable. But there is no inconsistent messaging for suicide. So it is not such a clear issue.
Sir, my second issue is with the arguments put forward by the opposing camp. The opponents of the repeal have expressed concern that any repeal may be construed as endorsement by the Government in favour of alternative
lifestyles. That is a fair point. However, likewise, I hope that any decision not to repeal will not be regarded as an endorsement for some of the reasons that have been advanced to oppose it. What are some of these reasons?
First, the argument advanced by some religious groups that section 377A should be retained because homosexuality is an abomination. I respect their right to express their views, and I do not think this is the appropriate time or place for me to discuss it. But we must remind ourselves that we are a secular state, where every one is equal in the eyes of the law, and it is important to assure all citizens of Singapore that decisions will always be made on secular grounds.
Second is the notion that section 377A reflects our Asian values. But section 377A is not even Asian in origin. Section 377 was originally based on an English criminal law which sought to prohibit sodomy, and was incorporated into the Indian Penal Code in late 1862. It was also adapted for the Straits Settlements Penal Code in 1871. Section 377A was later added under the sub-title "Unnatural offences" in 1938. Both sections were absorbed unchanged into the Singapore Penal Code when the latter was passed by Singapore's Legislative Council on 28th January 1955. In short, we inherited this from the British. There is nothing distinctly Asian about it.
Third is the argument that repealing section 377A will lead to a rampant increase in homosexuality, and thereby increase HIV rates. First, retaining the law can make no difference because offenders have already been told that they will not be prosecuted. Second, Sir, it is stretching logic to suggest that the repeal will lead to a sudden proliferation of homosexual activity. Thirdly, making something illegal only forces it underground. That will restrict the ability of the Government to respond to the HIV threat through promotion and education, when Government agencies feel that they cannot engage with the gay community in any way except a condemnatory one.
Finally, Sir, is the argument that the repeal is a slippery slope, that it will herald the end of the family unit. As I have said earlier, there is no consistency in our laws to support this argument. Further, while society may frown on homosexuality, that, by itself, does not justify criminalising it. A number of speakers, at least one of them, have highlighted the surveys in the Straits Times where the public was polled and 70% were said to frown on homosexuality. I can understand that. Seventy percent frowned on it. But how many actually said that they were willing to criminalise it? That question was not even asked, and that is a serious question because that is the issue we face today.
Some Members have mentioned the possibility of same-sex marriages occurring here. That, no doubt, will be an issue which gay activists will push further down the road. But that involves the Government actively endorsing and passing legislation to recognise same-sex marriages. So the arguments here do not apply.
Sir, can I end by putting the question in another way? I say there is another way to test the issue: assume we are here debating whether to include section 377A into our Penal Code, would we do it? I am not sure we would, because we would hesitate about passing laws to deal with private acts in the bedroom. But because it is already there, we are comfortable living in there.
Sir, it may well be that our society today is not ready to debate this issue. I hope that it will not be too long before we feel ready to do so, because I think that is a sign of our growing maturity. But when we do debate this issue, I hope that the debate will be calm and measured as that typifies the way we do things in Singapore. Certainly, we do not wish to see any proliferation of hate messages of mails and other things which Professor Thio Li-ann has talked about. That is certainly not the way we do things in Singapore, and long may that continue. Ultimately, laws should be passed or repealed not only because the majority wants it that way, but because it makes sense and it is in the interests of Singapore as a whole, including the interests of all minority groups.
Baey Yam Keng
The section that has attracted the most number of opinions, most heated public debate, with two online petitions and one Public Petition to Parliament is, in fact, one that has been retained - section 377A which probably has become the most known piece of legislation in recent Singapore history.
Let us look at this issue in a hypothetical scenario. Singapore was never a British colony and we did not inherit section 377A. Today's debate then becomes one of justifying the introduction of a new piece of legislation which states that, "It is an offence for any male person, who in public or private, commits an act of gross indecency with another male person.".
The rationale will be that since Singapore is a generally conservative society, we should single out and criminalise all sexual activities between two men while accepting that the same activity of anal and oral sex between a heterosexual couple and sexual activity between two women need not be offences.
By doing so, we will be aligning our law with most countries in Africa and Middle East. In this hypothetical scenario, perhaps some countries like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Malaysia will also introduce similar Acts, as what their current position is. Other former British colonies which have since repealed the 19th century law, such as Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, will most likely not think it is necessary to now criminalise man-to-man sex.
While almost all western countries do not have similar laws, we will argue that it is not relevant for us to take reference from them. However, we are also choosing not to benchmark Singapore against countries like China, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines which do not have laws that criminalise male homosexual ctivity.
According to various points raised by the public, by not criminalising gay sex, it will lead to an increase in homosexual activity, both in public and private. There will also be more male paedophiles eyeing young boys, blatant public solicitation and more AIDS patients.
The fact that in 2006, of all the new AIDS cases in Singapore, homosexual transmission constitutes only 26% does not seem to register clearly with the public.
We also know that there are already laws and there will be stronger laws against prostitution, sexual abuse, exploitation of minors and public indecency. Maybe that is why we will propose that section 377A need not and will not be proactively enforced.
Can the Senior Minister of State give examples of situations where specific enforcement of only section 377A may be needed? Yesterday, he mentioned previous convictions under section 377A, but it seems to me that they could also have been prosecuted under other sections. With no proactive enforcement, should anyone be a good citizen and report private gay sexual activities to the police or will they be simply ignored? Will
there be ramifications of this legislation? If someone rents his apartment to a gay couple, will he be charged as an abetting accomplice to a crime under section V of the Penal Code? Besides valid immigration and employment papers, should landlords now ask for confirmation of their tenant's sexual orientation?
With a punishment by up to two years of imprisonment, we are deeming that such activities are of similar severity as causing death by negligent act in section 304A(b), and wrongfully confining any person for three or more days in section 345, and assault or use of criminal force to a person with intent to outrage modesty in section 354(1).
Our justification will also be supported by various surveys, including a NTU study published in September 2007 which saw that 68.6% of respondents in Singapore were negative towards sex between two men or two women. However, it is also interesting to note that some countries choose not to reflect such social non-acceptance in legislation.
Based on the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2003, 93% in Indonesia and 84% in Vietnam say that homosexuality should not be accepted by society, but these countries have no equivalent of section 377A.
I assume most Singaporeans do not have many gay acquaintances. We are likely to gather our knowledge and form our opinions of the homosexual world from media reports. I believe certain stereotypes of homosexuals in people's minds will include effeminate men, like Boy George, men who prey on young boys, eg, Christopher Neil, flamboyant men who seem to lead decadent lifestyles, like Elton John, and AIDS patients, like Paddy Chew.
I do know quite a number of homosexual men and women. However, the majority, if not all of them, do not fall into any of those abovementioned stereotype categories. Well, they include some very talented and creative people - a common impression of gays which many have said is totally unfounded. These are the directors, actors, hairstylists
and designers. But I also know many gay men who are just your average men on the street, making a living as lawyers, lecturers, engineers, accountants, bankers, teachers and civil servants.
I know they have different sexual practices from me, and I have treated them just as any other person. Now, I am reminded that perhaps I should see them as criminals who should spend time behind bars. Perhaps, the thousands of audience who paid as much as $400 to watch Sir Ian McKellen, better known as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, playing King Lear, in July, might think twice now as he is an openly gay man and hence should object to allowing a criminal on the stage of our Esplanade.
There are negative and positive steps a country can do to discourage and encourage certain behaviours. For example, we do not want to condone smoking and drinking. These acts are not criminal under the law, although we have made tobacco and alcohol less accessible and a lot more expensive. We want to promote marriage and procreation. Hence, singles do not enjoy certain tax and housing benefits, but they are not jailed.
We may be utterly surprised, disappointed, embarrassed, disgusted and angry with our friends, our colleagues and our relatives if we find out they are gay. I will be saddened if my son is gay, because I realise I will not have any grandchildren by him. I may choose to disown him, but now we are saying that he should be jailed.
Sir, I will now continue my speech in Mandarin.
(In Mandarin): [For vernacular speech, please refer to Appendix A *. ] As the Chinese saying goes, 不孝有三，无后为大 (Bu Xiao You San, Wu Hou Wei Da) which means, "There are three unfilial acts, the greatest is not to have a son." This is an important concept in a traditional and oriental society like ours. Parents are hoping that their sons will have wives and their daughters will be married, and the children also understand that it is an obligation for them to get married and have children. Nevertheless many people choose to marry late, not to get married, or not to have children, and for some it remains solely a personal choice. There are many reasons, but one reason is that they are homosexuals.
I have some homosexual friends and most of them do not want to make public the fact about their sexual inclination, because Singapore is after all a more conservative society. They will only confide with their close friends, colleagues and siblings. More often than not, parents are the last to know. Especially for those who are male homosexuals, the gays, they will not be able to have children and they do not know how to live up to their parents' expectations. A friend of mine did not have the courage to tell his parents. And only after his father had passed away that he disclosed his secret at his father's coffin. Even now the mother does not know about it.
When parents find out that their children do not like the opposite sex, their immediate reaction is that of shock, sadness, shame, anger or remorse, and they try to find out what has gone wrong - why their children had become homosexuals. Some of the parents chose to run away from reality and one of my friend's mother had gone to the temple to pray, she came back with a charm mixed with water, with the hope that after drinking it, it will cure the son. They do not know what to do and some of them even chase their son out of the house, but if they were to take time to think it through calmly, I do not believe that they will charge their son in court and send him to prison for two years.
I have a friend who is the only child in the family. His mother still could not fully accept the fact that her son does not have any interest in the opposite sex. She was more worried that her son may be sentenced to jail being a homosexual. However, she is the person that knows him best, she knows that her son is very filial and obedient; he is a law-abiding citizen and a successful professional. Also, she has known the "boyfriend" of her son for many years and knows they do not have a promiscuous lifestyle.
As parents, we are often the best judges of our children's character. Having a different sexual orientation from the others does not mean that they have committed a heinous crime and therefore should be criminalised.
Back in English
Back to my hypothetical scenario, we will also say that we introduce section 377A as a symbol that the society is conservative and that we do not want to go down a slippery slope to see public display of affection between men, the fight for gay rights and gay marriages. For seven years, I have lived in London, a city that legalised consensual homosexual sex 40 years ago in 1967. I am hence surprised to recollect my time there and I have not ever seen any such behaviour or intimacy between two men in public whilst I was there. Perhaps Ihave not been to the right places, but I have not indeed seen anyone before my eyes.
Perhaps we are afraid that the slope will be more slippery in Singapore. After all, we have a track record of taking a more progressive stance in some areas, such as stem cell research and digital rights, leading the way, so to speak.
We take into account the change of times and lifestyles. For example, section 376E on sexual grooming of minors is farsighted nip in the bud. Times have changed and our attitudes towards different crimes and their punishments have evolved as well.
Should the law reflect the general or popular opinion or should it set up a framework to steer the way of thinking and behaviour of its citizens, residents and visitors?It is clear that we have chosen to take the former approach in this case.
I do recognise that in today's situation, there is already an existing Act, and the debate is whether it should be retained or repealed and not whether we should introduce a new Act. We have inherited section 377A from the British.
It is easier and, as the Senior Minister of State said, more practical to maintain the status quo than to change it. Because of the extensive and, some may say, polarised debate, we may not be ready to repeal the Act now.
However, whether the perceived majority holding the status quo view has enough knowledge and understanding of the subject matter to make an informed opinion, is another question. I suspect a significant segment of our society does not really care and some are just uncomfortable with this topic and choose the convenient way to stick with the status quo without knowing what the Act exactly is and does.
Last week, a resident came to my meet-the-people session and said that she is happy that the Government is retaining section377A. I asked her, "Do you know what section 377A is about?" She said, "I don't know."
I am happy to note that both the proposition and the opposition have spoken publicly and rationally. Hopefully, the Government will provide the environment to encourage the continuation of such dialogue so that the society at large can achieve a better understanding of the matter. I want to especially encourage voices from institutions, like the Law Society, so that this discussion will not be driven to periphery. Hopefully, the discussion will be ongoing and not just during the next review of the Penal Code. Hopefully, the review will happen earlier rather than another 23 years later. Hopefully, we will move with and not play catching up with the pace of change around the world that is affecting people's lives.
Sir, with that, I support the Bill.
Ho Geok Choo
Sir, reactions to section 377A have been sharp and vocal, with several interest groups taking highly public positions on this particular provision. In fact, I understand that there is a disturbing undercurrent of violent hostilities surrounding this discussion. I would like to appeal to all interest groups and interested individuals to discuss section 377A in a calm and peaceful manner befitting a civil and civilised society. Sir, I would like to reiterate what Dr Balaji said recently, although in another context, and that is, "Whilst we encourage diversity in society, we must not allow divisiveness to cut society into a disintegrated one, especially in a small and open country like Singapore.". We must strike a balance.
Sir, I was reflecting on this issue and I realised that the Government is very much like the parents in the household. With a brood of children, born of the same parents, but with totally different characters, how do the parents ensure that within the family, there is space, tolerance, balance and peace and harmony in their co-existence? Of course, there are principles and values that parents must instil. But when there are disagreements, it is not enough to know what is wrong but it is important to know how to fix the problem as well. How could the parents do this without excluding any member of the family? This is the imperative task faced by the Government at the moment.
Ong Kian Min
(See video of speech:)
I would state categorically that I am not in favour of mainstreaming the homosexual lifestyle, but have not intended to speak on section 377A as the Government has consulted widely. Many have spoken on this issue and most Singaporeans let out a sigh of relief when they noticed that this Amendment Bill left the existing section 377A intact. Well, I do not want to dwell into the hypothetical scenario painted by Mr Baey Yam Keng as the fact remains that, outraged by Mr Siew Kum Hong's open Petition, many of my concerned constituents and friends have come forward to voice out their extreme unease about how this issue might evolve. And they feel that it is about time they let their stand be made known. They have come out more forcefully to make their views known and the Tampines GRC MPs have promised to express some of these views for them, the hitherto silent majority.
I would like to quote from one of my residents from my GRC, Miss Samantha Wong of Tampines Street 81:
"I cannot imagine the repercussions it [repeal of section 377A] would have on the morality of the society. This is a place where my children and children's children would grow up in. Thus I plead that this decision [the Government's decision in not changing section 377A] would not change for the sake of upholding the moral standards and family values in this nation. In no way does this petition [Mr Siew Kum Hong's petition] serve the interests of Singapore or us as Singaporeans, but only a small portion pushing to serve their own personal interests/agenda."
Sir, whether section 377A should be repealed or retained is an emotive issue that has aroused much debate. It has forced us to examine our beliefs and convictions against the context of changing perceptions and values that have happened over time. Judging by the number of signatures that the two opposing websites - "Repeal377A" and "Keep377A" - have amassed, it has compelled many of us to make a stand for what we believe in.
The true crux of the matter is whether Singaporeans are ready to openly accept homosexuality into mainstream society.
Although a vocal segment of society has garnered much support for the repeal of section 377A, the majority of Singaporeans have unequivocally rejected these cries to decriminalise homosexuality. The overwhelming sentiment of Singaporeans is that they are not prepared to compromise their conservative family values by opening up to alternative sexual behaviour, nor allowing it to permeate across time honoured boundaries into the conventional family sanctity.
Sir, I would like to thank Prof. Thio for giving me a history lesson yesterday on how the concept of marriage and modern-day family came about. The family unit has been acknowledged as the building block of society, praised as the foundation of social order and exalted as the bastion of civilisation. It is the family thatnurtures our children. It is the family that inspires us to contribute to our community. It is the family that believes in working towards a future. Every nation is fully cognisant of the importance of the family as the primary source of stability and growth. Singapore is no different. Our Government has demonstrated its commitment to preserve and strengthen the family structure through pro-family laws and policies. I believe that a great majority are keen to preserve the family unit as we know it - a family unit that consists of a father, a mother and their children.
In a fast-changing world, the traditional family unit is already vulnerable to various encroachments such as rising divorce rates, the increase in the number of single-parent households and work pressures. We must do all we can to support the integrity of the family and keep it safe from further challenges. By promoting homosexuality, we are effectively initiating a shift in the definition of the family unit. I gravely fear that repealing section 377A will lead to calls for further integration of homosexuality into our society. Singaporeans are simply not ready to change their family values at this point in time. Encouraging homosexuality will undermine the traditional family institution and weaken our social fabric. Let the family unit not be compromised.
The majority of Singaporeans want their children to grow up in a traditional environment that espouses healthy and wholesome traditional family values. We do not want the homosexual lifestyle to be promoted or celebrated.
Sir, I would also like to state that I support the retention of section 377A. I agree totally with what Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Law, Professor S Jayakumar, who recently presented this perspective when he spoke at the Rule of Law Symposium. In the application of the rule of law, it has to be in accordance with the social, cultural and political values of each society. I quote:
"Asian societies like Singapore generally give greater importance to the larger interests of the community in arriving at this balance. In western societies, the tilt is towards more emphasis on the rights of the individual."
In Singapore, we must continue to protect and uphold the traditional core family structure and values.
Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim
(See video of speech:)
Mr Speaker, Sir, before I end my speech, I would like to be heard on my views on the Petition to repeal section 377A of the Penal Code that has been brought to this House for debate.
Sir, the Petition brought forward by Mr Siew Kum Hong, in recent weeks, has attracted widespread attention and debate in both mainstream media channels as well as on the Internet. I have been following this debate, trying to understand what both sides of the coin present.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I have mentioned earlier that the Penal Code is a vital component of our judiciary system. It sets both the economic and social direction that our society would take in realising our vision for the nation while, at the same time, protecting the interests and rights of our society.
In recent weeks, I have heard many voices in both mainstream media and others that have called for the retention of section 377A. In private, I have personally received strong disapproval from my residents who have submitted their own petitions to retain section 377A. Feedback from the ground suggests that the majority of my constituents feel
the same way too. Like the hon. Mr Zaqy Mohamad, MP for Hong Kah GRC, I received similar feedback from my engagement with the members of the Malay community. In fact, in addition to the delicious rendang and ketupat, section 377A became a topic of discussion during my Hari Raya visits and gathering.
One feedback I received in particular was from a concerned parent, a mother in fact, whose son would be entering National Service soon which would put him in a male-oriented environment. She is concerned on how her son would have to manage this issue during his National Service. How would he and his fellow NS mates' focus be affected when their main objective was to protect our nation? And she is concerned that her son's sexual orientation may be influenced.
Though pro-petitioners to repeal section 377A could always have a counter argument against her concerns, I feel that it is still a genuine worry of many parents and reflects the sentiments of the society towards this issue. She further claimed that many of her friends and relatives are concerned about this issue and hope that the outcome of our debate would address their concerns.
Sir, I recognise that gay Singaporeans have contributed to our nation-building process and, like most Singaporeans, been loyal to our nation. However, I do feel that the act to repeal section 377A is against the mainstream approval of most Singaporeans.
Singapore is that unique Asian society that still embodies strong cultural traditions and religious roots while at the same time is also immersing itself in new cosmopolitan lifestyles and values. However, what makes us different is that we are discerning in our approach to find the right balance that meets the needs and aspirations of our people. I am not certain that repealing section 377A at this moment serves the larger interests of our nation.
On the issue of infringing the rights of gay Singaporeans, I do not think the community's rights are being put under the microscope. The gay community in the past and present has its private space in Singapore and, like other citizens, the rights to vote and enjoy the benefits that most Singaporeans are accorded.
Sir, the essence of my argument is to engage in a speech that the purpose of the Penal Code is in serving our society and nation in this ever complex world. To me, the Penal Code serves the interest of the community at large. The message that I heard loud and clear is that the majority of Singaporeans are not ready for open homosexuality acts to be part of our way of life yet.
Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to record my strong support that section 377A be retained in the Penal Code.
Lee Hsien Loong
Mr Speaker, Sir, this parliamentary debate is on the amendments to the Penal Code, but the hottest debate is on one section which is not being amended - section 377A.Both Mr Siew Kum Hong and Prof. Thio Li-ann quoted me with approval in their speeches yesterday, so I think I should state my position and the Government's position on this matter.
Because of the review of the Penal Code and the amendments, I think the gay community and the activists have staged a push to get the Government to open this subject and to abolish section 377A. They have written an open letter to me as Prime Minister, they have also petitioned Parliament on this issue on the grounds of constitutional validity, and the constitutional argument was made by Mr Siew Kum Hong yesterday in Parliament. I do not have to go into the details. It was rebutted very cogently by Ms Indranee Rajah and very passionately by Prof. Thio Li-ann. They are not my legal advisers. I take my legal advice from the Attorney-General, and his advice to the Government is quite clear.
The continued retention of section 377A would not be a contravention of the Constitution.
The Government has not taken this matter lightly. We had a long discussion amongst the Ministers. We had an extensive public consultation on the Penal Code amendments and we decided on this issue - to leave things be.
Let me, today, focus on the policy issue - what we want the law to be, and explain our thinking, our considerations, why we came to this conclusion. I would ask these questions: what is our attitude towards homosexuality? "Our", meaning the Government's attitude and Singaporeans' attitude too. How should these attitudes and these values be reflected in our legislation?
Many Members have said this, but it is true and it is worth saying again. Singapore is basically a conservative society. The family is the basic building block of our society. It has been so and, by policy, we have reinforced this and we want to keep it so. And by "family" in Singapore, we mean one man one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit.
If we look at the way our Housing and Development Board flats are, our neighbourhoods, our new towns, they are, by and large, the way Singaporeans live. It is not so in other countries, particularly in the West, anymore, but it is here.
I acknowledge that not everybody fits into this mould. Some are single, some have more colourful lifestyles, some are gay. But a heterosexual stable family is a social norm. It is what we teach in schools. It is also what parents want their children to see as their children grow up, to set their expectations and encourage them to develop in this direction. I think the vast majority of Singaporeans want to keep it this way. They want to keep our society like this, and so does the Government.
But, at the same time, we should recognise that homosexuals are part of our society. They are our kith and kin.
This is not just in Singapore. This is so in every society, in every period of history, back to pre-historic times, or at least as long as there have been records - biblical times and probably before.
What makes a person gay or homosexual? Well, partly, it could be the social environment. If we look at the ancient Greeks and Romans, it was quite normal for men to have homosexual relationships - an older man with a young boy. It does not mean that that was all they did - they had wives and children. But, socially, that was the practice. So, I think, the social environment has something to do with it.But there is growing scientific evidence that sexual orientation is something which is substantially inborn. I know that some will strongly disagree with this, but the evidence is accumulating. We can read the arguments and the debates on the Internet. Just to take one provocative fact, homosexual behaviour is not observed only amongst human beings but also amongst many species of mammals.
So, too, in Singapore, there is a small percentage of people, both male and female, who have homosexual orientations.
They include people "who are often responsible, invaluable, and highly respected contributing members of society".
I quote from the open letter which the petitioners have written to me, and it is true. They include people who are responsible and valuable, highly respected contributing members of society. And I would add that among them are some of our friends, our relatives, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, or some of our children.
They, too, must have a place in this society, and they, too, are entitled to their private lives. We should not make it harder than it already is for them to grow up and to live in a society where they are different from most Singaporeans. And we also do not want them to leave Singapore to go to more congenial places to live. But homosexuals should not set the tone for Singapore society.Nor do we consider homosexuals a minority, in the sense that we consider, say, Malays and Indians as minorities, with minority rights protected under the law - languages taught in schools, cultures celebrated by all races, representation guaranteed in Parliament through GRCs and so on.
And this is the point which Ms Indranee Rajah made yesterday in a different way.
This is the way Singapore society is today.This is the way the majority of Singaporeans want it to be. So, we should strive to maintain a balance, to uphold a stable society with traditional, heterosexual family values, but with space for homosexuals to live their lives and contribute to the society.
We have gradually been making progress towards achieving a closer approximation to this balance over the years. I do not think we will ever get a perfect balance, but I think we have a better arrangement now than was the case 10 or 20 years ago.
Homosexuals work in all sectors, all over the economy, in the public sector and in the civil service as well. They are free to lead their lives, free to pursue their social activities. But there are restraints and we do not approve of them actively promoting their lifestyles to others, or setting the tone for mainstream society. They live their lives. That is their personal life, it is their space. But the tone of the overall society, I think, remains conventional, it remains straight, and we want it to remain so.
So, for example, the recent case of Mr Otto Fong, who is a teacher in Raffles Institution. He is gay and he is a good teacher by all accounts. He put up a blog which described his own sexual inclinations, and explained how he was gay. He circulated to his colleagues and it became public. So MOE looked at this. The school spoke to the teacher.
The teacher understood that this was beyond the limit, because how he lives is his own thing. But what he disseminates comes very close to promoting a lifestyle. So, they spoke to him, he took down his blog. He posted an explanation, he apologised for what he had done, and he continues teaching in RI today. So there is space, and there are limits.
De facto, gays have a lot of space in Singapore.Gay groups hold public discussions. They publish websites. I have visited some of them. There are films and plays on gay themes. In fact, sometimes people ask, "Why are there so many? Aren't there other subjects in the world?" But since we have allowed it in the last few years, maybe this is a letting off of pressure. Eventually, we will find a better balance.
There are gay bars and clubs. They exist. We know where they are. Everybody knows where they are. They do not have to go underground. We do not harass gays. The Government does not act as moral policemen. And we do not proactively enforce section 377A on them.
But this does not mean that we have reached a broad social consensus, that this is a happy state of affairs, because there are still very different views amongst Singaporeans on whether homosexuality is acceptable or morally right.
And we heard these views aired in Parliament over these last two days.
Some are convinced, passionately so, that homosexuality is an abomination, to quote Prof. Thio Li-ann's words
yesterday.Others, probably many more, are uncomfortable with homosexuals, more so with public display of homosexual behaviour. Yet others are more tolerant and accepting.
There is a range of views. There is also a range of degrees to which people are seized with this issue. Many people are not that seized with this issue. And speaking candidly, I think the people who are very seized with this issue are a minority. For the majority of Singaporeans - this is something that they are aware of but it is not the top of their consciousness - including, I would say, amongst them a significant number of gays themselves. But, also, I would say, amongst the Chinese-speaking community in Singapore. The Chinese-speaking Singaporeans are not strongly engaged, either for removing section 377A or against removing section 377A. Their attitude is: live and let live.
So, even in this debate in these two days, Members would have noticed that there have been very few speeches made in Parliament in Mandarin on this subject. I know Mr Baey Yam Keng made one this afternoon, but Mr Low Thia Khiang did not. It reflects the focus of the Chinese-speaking ground and their mindsets. So, for the majority of Singaporeans, their attitude is a pragmatic one. We live and let live.
The current legal position in Singapore reflects these social norms and attitudes, as Ms Indranee Rajah and Mr Hri Kumar explained yesterday. It is not legally neat and tidy. Mr Hri Kumar gave a very professional explanation of how untidy it is, but it is a practical arrangement that has evolved out of our historical circumstances. We are not starting from a blank slate, trying to design an ideal arrangement; neither are we proposing new laws against homosexuality. We have what we have inherited and what we have adapted to our circumstances. And as Mr Hri Kumar pointed out, we inherited section 377A from the British, imported from English Victorian law - Victorian from the period of Queen Victoria in the 19th century - via the Indian Penal Code, via the Straits Settlements Penal Code, into Singapore law.
Asian societies do not have such laws, not in Japan, China and Taiwan. But it is part of our landscape. We have retained it over the years. So, the question is: what do we want to do about it now? Do we want to do anything about it now? If we retain it, we are not enforcing it proactively. Nobody has argued for it to be enforced very vigorously in this House. If we abolish it, we may be sending the wrong signal that our stance has changed, and the rules have shifted.
But because of the Penal Code amendments, section 377A has become a symbolic issue, a point for both opponents and proponents to tussle around. The gayactivists want it removed.Those who are against gay values and lifestyle argue strongly to retain it. And both sides have mobilised to campaign for their causes. There was a Petition to remove section 377A. It accumulated a couple of thousand signatures which were presented to this House.
Therefore, there was a counter-petition to retain it, which collected 15,000 signatures - at least, according to the newspapers. I have not counted the signatures - 16,000.
An hon. Member: 15,560.
The Prime Minister: 15,560 signatures. It has probably gone up since we last started speaking.There was also an open letter to me.The Ministers and I have received many emails and letters on this subject. I have received emails too in my mail box, very well written, all following a certain model answer style.
So it is a very well organised campaign. And not only writing letters, but constituents have visited MPs at meet-the-people sessions to see the MP, not because there is anything they want done, but to congratulate the MP on what a good Government this is, that we are keeping section 377A, and please stay a good Government, and please do not change it.
I do not doubt the depth of the sentiments and the breadth of the support but it is also a very well organised pressure campaign. But I am not surprised that this issue is still contentious, because even in the West, even where they have liberalised, homosexuality still remains a very contentious issue. They decriminalised homosexual acts decades ago, in the 1960s, 1970s, and they have gone a long way towards accepting gays in society. They not only have gays in prominent places, but if you want to have a complete Cabinet or a complete line-up when you go for elections, you must have some on your list so that you are seen to have been inclusive. This is certainly so in Europe, also true in America.
But still the issue is bitterly disputed. So in America, there are fierce debates over gay rights and same-sex marriages. And the conservatives in America are pushing back. President George Bush has been calling for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and not between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. This is in America. So the issue is still joined. Even within the churches, it is a hot subject. The Anglican Church, Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had liberal views on gay issues. He became the Archbishop. He has moderated his views, because he has to reflect the Church as a whole.
And even within the church, the Church in England, and the Church in America have a very serious disagreement with the Anglican churches in Asia and in Africa, who almost split away on this issue of ordination of gay people as bishops. And they have patched up in a compromise recently in America and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is head of the church, had to plead with his community to come to some understanding so that they maintain the Anglican communion.
So, this is not an issue where we can reach happy consensus and abolishing section 377A, were we to do this, is not going to end the argument in Singapore. Among the conservative Singaporeans, the deep concerns over the moral values of society will remain and, among the gay rights' activists, abolition is not going to give them what they want because what they want is not just to be freed from section 377A, but more space and full acceptance by other Singaporeans. And they have said so. So, supposing we move on 377A, I think the gay activists would push for more, following the example of other avant garde countries in Europe and America, to change what is taught in the schools, to advocate same-sex marriages and parenting, to ask for, to quote from their letter, "...exactly the same rights as a straight man or woman." This is quoting from the open letter which the petitioners wrote to me. And when it comes to these issues, the majority of Singaporeans will strenuously oppose these follow-up moves by the gay campaigners and many who are not anti-gay will be against this agenda, and I think for good reason.
Therefore, we have decided to keep the status quo on section 377A. It is better to accept the legal untidiness and the ambiguity. It works, do not disturb it. Mr Stewart Koe, who is one of the petitioners, was interviewed yesterday and he said he wanted the Government to remove the ambiguity and clarify matters. He said the current situation is like, I quote him, "Having a gun put to your head and not pulling the trigger. Either put the gun down or pull the trigger." First of all, I do not think it is like that, and secondly, I do not think it is wise to try to force the issue. If you try and force the issue and settle the matter definitively, one way or the other, we are never going to reach an agreement within Singapore society. People on both sides hold strong views. People who are presently willing to live and let live will get polarised and no views will change, because many of the people who oppose it do so on very deeply held religious convictions, particularly the Christians and the Muslims and those who propose it on the other side, they also want this as a matter of deeply felt fundamental principles. So, discussion and debate is not going to bring them closer together. And instead of forging a consensus, we will divide and polarise our society.
I should therefore say that as a matter of reality, the more the gay activists push this agenda, the stronger will be the push back from conservative forces in our society, as we are beginning to see already in this debate and over the last few weeks and months. And the result will be counter productive because it is going to lead to less space for the gay community in Singapore. So it is better to let the situation evolve gradually. We are a completely open society. Members have talked about it - the Internet, travel, full exposure.
We cannot be impervious to what is happening elsewhere. As attitudes around the world change, this will influence the attitude of Singaporeans. As developments around the world happen, we must watch carefully and decide what we do about it. When it comes to issues like the economy, technology, education, we better stay ahead of the game, watch where people are moving and adapt faster than others, ahead of the curve, leading the pack. And when necessary on such issues, we will move even if the issue is unpopular or controversial. So we are moving on CPF changes, we are moving on so many economic restructuring changes. We moved on IRs - it is a difficult subject, not everybody supports the Government, but we decide this is right, we move.
On issues of moral values with consequences to the wider society, first we should also decide what is right for ourselves, but secondly, before we are carried away by what other societies do, I think it is wiser for us to observe the impact of radical departures from the traditional norms on early movers. These are changes which have very long lead times before the impact works through, before you see whether it is wise or unwise. Is this positive? Does it help you to adapt better? Does it lead to a more successful, happier, more harmonious society?
So, we will let others take the lead, we will stay one step behind the frontline of change; watch how things work out elsewhere before we make any irrevocable moves. We were right to uphold the family unit when western countries went for experimental lifestyles in the 1960s - the hippies, free love, all the rage, we tried to keep it out. It was easier then, all you had were LPs and 45 RPM records, not this cable vision, the Internet and travel today. But I am glad we did that, because today if you look at Western Europe, the marriage as an institution is dead. Families have broken down, the majority of children are born out of wedlock and live in families where the father and the mother are not the husband and wife living together and bringing them up. And we have kept the way we are. I think that has been right.
I think we have also been right to adapt, to accommodate homosexuals in our society, but not to allow or encourage activists to champion gay rights as they do in the West. So I suggest, Mr Speaker, and I suggest to the Members of the House, we keep this balance, leave section 377A alone. I think there is space in Singapore and room for us to live harmoniously and practically, all as Singapore citizens together. Thank you very much. [Applause.]
(See video of speech:)
Sir, another provision that has generated much controversy is section 377A. Much has already been said on this section, and I am not sure if I can add anything that has not already been said. I shudder at the thought of adding more of it because of the passion that has been shown in this House. But I think I would be remiss as a legislator if I merely hid behind the views of the "conservative majority" and maintain the status quo, which of course would be the least inconvenient thing to do if you were not gay.
Sir, I am not convinced that there would be drastic consequences in our society if we do not repeal section 377A, as the section has been in the Penal Code since the Code was adopted in, I think, 1871. Neither am I convinced that we will all rapidly slip down the slippery road if we were to repeal section 377A, as suggested by some Members. The
slippery road argument has less of an impact on me these days, as I have heard that sort of arguments used many times before.
Some years ago, a senior politician (who shall remain unnamed) argued his case as eloquently and as convincingly as some of our NMPs did yesterday, in retaining an archaic regulation. The removal of such a regulation, it was said, would have led to conflicts, fights and murders, if it were to be abolished. Well, we have abolished that archaic regulation and permitted bar-top dancing for some years already, and the world has not come to an end yet.
Sir, if the experts and MM and PM are indeed correct (and some of our MPs wrong) that some of us are indeed born with different sexual orientations, then it would be quite wrong for us to criminalise and persecute those that are born different from us, regardless of how conservative a society we claim to be, especially if their actions do not cause harm to third parties.
Sir, we also claim to be a secular and inclusive society. We should therefore respect the private space of those who are born different from us as much as we expect them to respect our common space. Therefore, if we do retain section 377A, which is most likely the case, as the Prime Minister has said so already, then we should exclude criminalising acts done in private between consenting adults of full capacity. Enforcing section 377A for acts done in private would be onerous if we do not have the equivalent of religious vigilantes that some of our neighbouring countries have to spy on what takes place in the bedrooms and hotel rooms.
Is it really the business of Government to regulate acts between consenting adults born with different sexual orientations in the privacy of their bedrooms?
Sir, if we have intended the retention of section 377A in the Penal Code as an expression of our conservative values, rather than to be proactively enforced, as some have suggested, then I think we have come out short even in this respect. The section criminalises act of gross indecency in public and in private only if it is engaged between men.
Surely, the Minister must acknowledge that women are as capable as men of committing such acts. Is section 377A therefore, as it stands, a correct statement of our values and principles? Or are there no lesbians in Singapore?
Sir, it would simply not be realistic to expect the majority of Singaporeans to ever reach a position of being pro-homosexuality or where they would actively seek to repeal section 377A as a matter of priority. Even if heterosexual Singaporeans are apathetic towards homosexuality, it would be much easier just to maintain the status quo than to take steps to modify or even expunge section 377A from the Penal Code.
Having said all this, section 377A is useful in one regard as it is currently an offence for a man to "procure or attempt to procure the commission" of an act of gross indecency with another man. This gives some protection to men who are subject to unwanted sexual advances of other men and should continue to be an offence whether these advances are made in public or in private. The section should however be extended to protect women who face the same sort of harassment from other women.
This is a rare case of the Penal Code providing more protection to men than it does to women. It is unfair and may even be unconstitutional that women do not, in this respect, currently have the same sort of protection that men have under the law.
So, ultimately, my question, as asked by the other Members, is: if we did not have section 377A in the Penal Code today, would we think it fit and proper to enact a provision in exactly the same terms? Would we not be seen as being narrow-minded, perhaps even bigoted in our philosophy towards people who are born different and engage in practices not approved by the majority, even if no harm is done to others?
If we would not, then I think we should show leadership and convince the majority to do what is fair, just and representative of the age in which we live. And that it does not make sense to have a law we do not intend to proactively enforce and that intimate relations with the consenting adults in the privacy of one's bedroom are not the business of the Government.
Finally, Sir, I support the many changes made in the Penal Code, not only to expunge archaic laws and terms - I am delighted to hear the Senior Minister of State say that there are no more terms of "bullock", "ice-house" and "horse carriages" in the Penal Code - but also to bring the existing laws up to date with our present day situation.
Although in several areas I think we could have done better, overall, it was quite a commendable effort and I hope the Minister would continue to refine the provisions further in the very near future and to seriously consider expunging laws that we have no intention to enforce.
Lim Biow Chuan
(See video of speech:)
Finally, Sir, on the issue of section 377A, I wish to state my support for the Government's position of retaining section 377A of the Penal Code. I had originally not intended to speak on this topic. But in view of the Petition presented by Nominated MP Mr Siew Kum Hong, I feel that I should state that not all MPs agree with Mr Siew's arguments. I do not agree, Sir, that the role of the criminal law is only to punish those who have caused harm to others. If that is the case, as my fellow MPs had said yesterday, why do we have laws on attempted suicide? Why do we have laws prohibiting the sale of obscene materials? Why do we have laws against incest? Should we be bothered whether a father decides to sleep with his adult daughter in the privacy of their own home? Why do we bother to make it an offence for someone to have sex with animals? This is in section 377B. In fact, with this current amendment Bill, Sir, we have just introduced a new offence of necrophilia, which is this abhorrent act of engaging in sex with a corpse. Does this offence harm society? Does it make Singapore unsafe or less secure?
Sir, the basic position of Parliament should be that we make laws to reflect the public morality of our times. In this situation, Sir, I agree with the views of Ms Indranee Rajah. I support the Government's stand because I do not agree with the practice of homosexuality. This is not just my personal view but alsothe views of many of my residents when I sought their opinion. With the greatest respect to the Prime Minister, I must state that I do not think that there is conclusive evidence that homosexual behaviour is inborn. The jury is out on this issue, and different scientists would have different views on the matter.
Let me state unequivocally, Sir, that I am not anti-gay. The fact that I disagree with the practice of homosexuality does not mean that I despise homosexuals. In fact, like the hon. Member, Mr Baey Yam Keng, I have friends who are gay, and my approach to them is simply that "I do not agree with your lifestyle. But I would respect you for who you are. So if you are a decent chap, an honest and hardworking person, your sexual orientation or preference does not affect the way I see you. I would treat and respect you as another fellow citizen." And I do not believe that any Member in this House would turn away a person who comes to him during a meet-the-people session seeking financial help simply on the ground that this person is a homosexual. I believe that the majority of Singaporeans do not condemn a homosexual or a gay simply because of his lifestyle. Nor do they wish to criminalise a homosexual.
However, as my fellow MP, Mr Christopher de Souza, said, the messaging or signpost is important. As MPs, we have to send the message that Singapore is a conservative society whereby the family unit is still seen as the basic structure of society. I believe, Sir, we have not accused gays of being criminals, nor do I know of any petition to enforce section 377A.
Sir, in conclusion, I would like to state that I support the amendment Bill on the Penal Code.
Seah Kian Peng
(See video of speech:)
Sir, I made some reference to the normative nature of the law-making process at the start of this speech. With regard to section 377A, I have heard many stories and quotes that Mr Siew Kum Hong has related about homosexuals living in Singapore. It is difficult not to be moved by them. At the same time, I know that his accusations about the tyranny of the majority are false. This matter is one of principle and not of numbers. If we acted with the tyranny of the majority, why do we have the GRC system, where ethnic minorities are protected? Or if we were truly trying to be on the side of numbers, why did we not go along with the Malaysians in 1963 when they asked us to be part of a Malay Malaysia? Or in the case of Myanmar, why do we not side with China or India, and take a completely "hands off approach"? The numbers are certainly there. Or why do we not be like the US or Europe? The number of people may be smaller but the guns are larger.
Sir, this is the real slippery slope. If we abdicate debate and discourse for mere accounting, we would not be upholding our role as Members of Parliament. I believe that this debate has given an airing to both sides of the argument. My own view is a simple one. I would be the mother who loves her gay son. I would be the man who loves his gay brother. I would be the first to stand up for a gay man's right to be treated as an equal under the law.
Yet, I am a Member of Parliament who believes that, as a nation, our families are not ready to have an open acceptance of the gay lifestyle, including same-sex marriages and gay adoption of young children. I believe that these key institutions would be weakened by the repeal of section 377A. This view, like this debate, is a matter of principle, not of numbers.
Sir, I support the Bill.
- Archive of "Parliamentary debate on Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 22 Oct 2007"
- Archive of "Parliamentary debate on Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 23 Oct 2007"
- Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code
- Singapore Parliamentary Reports (Hansard), Penal Code (Amendment Bill) dated 22 October 2007:.
- A playlist of all videos pertaining to Section 377A of the Penal Code:.
- Roy Ngerng, article in blog 'The Heart Truths', 'Where Are The PAP MPs Against Equal Same-Sex Rights?' 8 February 2014.
- Alex Au, article in Yawning Bread, 'When you should vote PAP', 16 March 2011.
- Alex Au, article in Yawning Bread, 'Reviewing the gay question before the polls', May 2006.
This article was compiled by Roy Tan.