Government to consider the ‘best way forward’ regarding 377A while respecting different viewpoints
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam acknowledged that policies need to evolve with the gradual shift in social attitudes towards homosexuality.
The Government is considering the “best way forward” regarding Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises sex between men, and will carefully assess the public’s different viewpoints before making a move, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Thursday (Mar 3).
“Even when we decide to move we will do so in a way that continues to balance between these different viewpoints and avoids causing a sudden destabilising change in social norms and public expectations,” Mr Shanmugam said at the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Committee of Supply debate in Parliament.
This comes after the Court of Appeal dismissed three men’s constitutional challenges to Section 377A on Feb 28. It stated that Section 377A is unenforceable by law, and therefore would not deprive anyone of “life or personal liberty” under Article 9(1) of the Constitution of Singapore.
“(The appellants) do not face any real and credible threat of prosecution under Section 377A at this time,” Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said.
Under Section 377A, any man who commits any act of gross indecency with another man in public or in private can be jailed for up to two years. This extends to any man who abets such an act, procures or attempts to procure such an act.
Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community feels hurt over being rejected and denied by their loved ones, schools and companies.
He also acknowledged that on the other hand, a “large majority” of Singaporeans wants to preserve traditional marriage and family structures.
“These are deeply divisive issues; that is why we take a live and let live approach. We seek to be an inclusive society, where mutual respect and tolerance for different views and practices are paramount.
He added that this is why the Government has decided to keep Section 377A on paper but not enforce it actively.
Mr Shanmugam also addressed the Court’s view that the compromise Singapore has struck with regards to Section 377A is “unique”.
“Our approach strikes a balance between preserving the legislative status quo, whilst accommodating the concerns of those directly affected by the legislation. The Court recognised that the Government did this in order to avoid driving a deeper wedge within our society,” he said.
He added that “socially charged issues” such as Section 377A would need continual discussions in the political domain, where consensus can be reached instead of black-and-white outcomes like in the Court.
He reiterated the Court’s stance that creating space for “peaceful co-existence” among various groups in society is important, especially with the “delicate” balance between the various interests around Section 377A.
“These opinions align with the approach that the Government has taken in dealing with Section 377A, and that it intends to take as it considers the changes in our social landscape since 2007,” he said.