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Government 'considering best way forward' on Section 377A while respecting different viewpoints: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — The Government is “considering the best way forward” on the law that criminalises consensual sex between men, stating that any change will need to respect different viewpoints, consider them carefully, and after having consulted different groups, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said.  

Government 'considering best way forward' on Section 377A while respecting different viewpoints: Shanmugam
Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam noted that attitudes towards homosexuality have changed since 2007 when Section 377A was last debated in Parliament.
  • Law Minister K Shanmugam said the Government is considering the best way forward on Section 377A of the Penal Code
  • Any move will be done in a way that continues to balance different viewpoints
  • He noted that social attitudes on homosexuality has changed since Parliament last debated the issue in 2007
  • Policies, legislation have to evolve in tandem, he added
  • He also said the court's recent judgement aligns with the approach to the law that the Government has taken and will take

SINGAPORE — The Government is “considering the best way forward” on the law that criminalises consensual sex between men, stating that any change will need to respect different viewpoints, consider them carefully, and after having consulted different groups, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said.  

“If and 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 or public expectations.” 

Mr Shanmugam was responding to a question on Thursday (March 3) from Mr Derrick Goh, Member of Parliament for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency, on the issue during the debate into the budget of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and following a Court of Appeal judgement on Monday that ruled that Section 377A of the Penal Code is “unenforceable in its entirety” and poses no threat of prosecution.

Experts who spoke to TODAY said that the ruling has indeed given homosexual men “clear legal certainty” that they will not be prosecuted under Section 377A, but that the position on homosexual sex still “remains rather untidy”, since the court did not rule on the constitutionality of the provision.

Mr Shanmugam said that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is looking carefully at the judgement, and reiterated that the Government has explained its stand of a “live and let live approach” previously.

“We seek to be an inclusive society, where mutual respect and tolerance for different views and practices are paramount. The Government has thus taken the approach that while Section 377A remains on the books, there will be no proactive enforcement. AGC takes a similar approach,” he said.

This was also why the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act expressly states that any attack on LGBT+ (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and others) groups or persons is an offence and cannot be tolerated, Mr Shanmugam said. 

“LGBT+ individuals are entitled to live peacefully, without being attacked or threatened,” he added.

Nevertheless, Mr Shanmugam noted that social attitudes towards homosexuality have changed since 2007, when Parliament last debated the controversial provision. 

He noted that members of the LGBT+ community are upset that their experience of being hurt or rejected by their families, friends, schools, companies is not recognised and often denied, but on the other hand, “a large majority” want to preserve the overall tone of society.

“In particular, the traditional view of marriage as being between a man and a woman, and that children should be raised within such a family structure. Their concern is not Section 377A per se, but the broader issues of marriage and family,” he said, stressing that there are also many among this group who also support the repeal of Section 377A.

“Both these viewpoints are valid and important.” 

This is why policies need to evolve in order to keep abreast with these changes in views, and legislation needs to evolve to support updated policies, he added.

“The Government is considering the best way forward. We must respect the different viewpoints, consider them carefully, talk to the different groups.”

Mr Shanmugam then addressed the appellate court’s judgement, which noted that Singapore’s “compromise” with Section 377A is unique. 

“Our approach strikes a balance: Preserving the legislative status quo, while 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.

The judgement also noted that Singapore’s approach seeks to keep what to do with Section 377A within the democratic space. Past court judgements on Section 377A have also ruled that these are highly contentious social issues that lie within the province of Parliament.

“Socially charged issues, such as Section 377A, call for continued discussion and open-ended resolution within the political domain, where we can forge consensus, rather than in win-lose outcomes in court.

“In this way, we can accommodate divergent interests, avoid polarisation and facilitate incremental change.”

Mr Shanmugam then noted that the court judgement had highlighted the importance of creating space for peaceful co-existence among the various groups, as the balance between the various interests around Section 377A has grown more delicate. 

“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.

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