377A to be repealed; government will amend Constitution to protect current definition of marriage from being challenged in court

Singaporeans, marriage, society, challenge, repeal, court, definition, government, law, man, Singapore, family, people, gay, risk, view

At the National Day Rally on 21 August, PM Lee Hsien Loong said that section 377A of the Penal Code will be repealed. At the same time, the Government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage nor any of the policies that take reference from this definition of marriage – including public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards, film classification.

One of the reason that led to the decision to repeal was because of a series of challenges mounted in courts as to the constitutionality of s377A. PM Lee has been advised by the Law Minister as well as the Attorney General that there is a significant risk of s377A being struck down in a future court challenge on the grounds that it breaches the Equal Protection provision in the Constitution. The Government has to take that risk seriously. It would be unwise to ignore the risk and do nothing, he said. 

As the law stands, the definition of marriage can also be challenged on consitutional grounds in the courts, just like s377A has been challenged. Hence the Government will amend the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage so that it cannot be challenged in the courts. 

Here’s the full text of what PM Lee said in his NDR speech on s377A: 

By and large, Singapore is a traditional society, with conservative social values, which believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, that children should be born and raised within such families. And the traditional family should form the basic building block of our society.

The majority of Singaporeans would like to keep our like this. This is the Government’s position too. We have upheld and reinforced the importance of families through many national policies, and we will continue to do so.

However, like every human society, we also have gay people in our midst. They are our fellow Singaporeans – our colleagues, friends, and family members. They too want to their own lives, participate in our community, and contribute fully to Singapore.

We need to find the right way to reconcile and accommodate both the traditional mores of our society, and the of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted.

A major issue for gay Singaporeans is Section 377A of the Penal Code, which makes sex between men a criminal offence.

Parliament last debated whether or not to repeal s377A in 2007. MPs expressed strong views on both sides. The Government decided then that we would leave s377A in our books, but not actively enforce it. We stopped short of repealing the law. It would have been too divisive to force the issue then.

Now, 15 years after we last debated Section 377A in Parliament, attitudes have shifted appreciably.

While we remain a broadly conservative society, gay people are now better accepted in Singapore, especially among younger Singaporeans.

Singaporeans still have differing views on whether homosexuality is right or wrong, but most people accept that a person’s sexual orientation and behaviour is a private and personal matter, and that sex between men should not be a criminal offence.

Even among those who want to retain s377A, most do not want to see it being actively enforced, and criminal penalties applied.

From the national point of view, private sexual behaviour between consenting adults does not raise any law-and-order issue. There is no justification to prosecute people for it, nor to make it a crime.

Furthermore, there have been a series of challenges to the constitutionality of s377A in the courts. None have succeeded, so far. However, the Minister for Law and the Attorney General have advised me that there is a significant risk of s377A being struck down in a future court challenge, on the grounds that it breaches the Equal Protection provision in the Constitution. We have to take that seriously. It would be unwise to ignore the risk, and do nothing.

For all these reasons, the Government will repeal s377A and decriminalise sex between men. I believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will now accept. This will bring the law into line with current social mores, and I hope, provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.

At the same time, most Singaporeans do not want the repeal to trigger a drastic shift in our societal norms across the board. In our engagements and soundings over several months, this has come through clearly.
 
For most, their main concern is what they feel s377A stands for, and what they repealing it may quickly lead to. They also worry that this may encourage more aggressive and divisive activism on all sides. This is not only the feeling of those within the religious groups, but is shared by many non-religious people too. Even many Singaporeans who support repeal want to maintain our current family and social norms.
 
The Government understands these concerns. We too do not want the repeal to trigger wholesale changes in society. We will maintain our current family-oriented approach, and the prevailing norms and values of Singapore society.

Hence even as we repeal s377A, we will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage. Under the law, only marriages between one man and one woman are recognised in Singapore. Many national policies rely upon this definition of marriage – including public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards, film classification. The Government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage, nor these policies.

However, as the law stands, the definition of marriage can be challenged on constitutional grounds in the courts, just like s377A has been challenged. I do not think that for Singapore, the courts are the right forum to decide such issues. These are fundamentally not legal problems, but political ones. Litigation is in its nature adversarial, and would highlight differences, inflame tensions and polarise society. This would be a bad outcome.

We will therefore protect the definition of marriage, as contained in the Interpre­tation Act and the Women’s Charter, from being challenged constitutionally in the courts. We have to amend the Constitution to protect it, and we will do so.

This will help us repeal s377A in a controlled, carefully considered way. It will limit this change to what I believe most Singaporeans will accept, which is to decriminalise sexual relations between consenting men in private.

But it will also keep what I believe most Singaporeans still want, and that is to retain the basic family structure of marriage between a man and a woman, within which we have and raise our children.

What we seek is a political accommodation that balances different legitimate views and among Singaporeans. But in a where diverse groups have strongly held opposing views, everyone has to accept that no group can have things all their way.

All groups should exercise restraint, because that is the only way we can move forward as a nation together. We have a stable and generally harmonious society, and we will work hard to keep things like this. hope the new balance will enable Singapore to remain a tolerant and inclusive for many years to come.

Read also  377A is for Singapore and for Singaporeans to decide: Lawrence Wong, interview with Bloomberg
Read also  377A to be repealed; government will amend Constitution to protect current definition of marriage from being challenged in court
Read also  Why is the Government proposing to repeal Section 377A now?

Share:

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn
On Key

Related Posts