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Day 1 of Section 377A debate: Which MPs support or disagree with the repeal, and what they say

SINGAPORE — In a debate on Monday (Nov 28), at least 18 Members of Parliament (MPs) spoke in support of a Bill to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code and three were against it. A handful did not explicitly state their position, even as they raised concerns that have been expressed by different members of society.

Day 1 of Section 377A debate: Which MPs support or disagree with the repeal, and what they say
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  • MPs debated the repeal of a law that criminalises sex between men, as well as a related constitutional amendment
  • At least 18 MPs expressed support for the repeal, three were against it while a handful did not explicitly take a position even as they raised concerns that have been expressed by different members of society

SINGAPORE — In a debate on Monday (Nov 28), at least 18 Members of Parliament (MPs) spoke in support of a Bill to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code and three were against it. A handful did not explicitly state their position, even as they raised concerns that have been expressed by different members of society.

Two other Workers' Party (WP) MPs who were absent from Parliament relayed their positions through their party leader Pritam Singh, with one supporting the repeal and one against it. Mr Singh, who is Leader of the Opposition, said that MPs Faisal Manap from Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) and Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC) were absent because they had Covid-19. Mr Faisal was against the repeal and Mr Chua supported it.

During the session, Parliament was also debating a related Bill to amend the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The debate will continue on Tuesday.

SUPPORTING REPEAL

1. WP secretary-general and Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh 

“In repealing 377A, religious Singaporeans are not asked to endorse homosexuality, but to instead honour the equality of all Singaporeans in the eyes of the law, that no consenting adults should be regarded as criminals because of what they do in private.”

2. WP chair and Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim, in support of repealing 377A but will abstain on proposed constitutional amendment

“I am concerned about the courts being further curtailed in their constitutional duty to check the Parliament and the Government. I am also concerned about whether the carve-out of judicial oversight on the institution of marriage will set a precedent for future carve-outs, even if this is not the intention today. This is potentially detrimental to Singaporeans.”

3. Mr Leon Perera, WP MP of Aljunied GRC

“I believe that every individual should be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation. I personally believe that the principles of equality and fairness demand this.”

4. Ms Hazel Poa, Non-Constituency MP of Progress Singapore Party who supported the repeal but was against the proposed constitutional amendment

"Recognising that no one single person can have his way all the time, and that taking turns to compromise is part and parcel of democracy, is a sign of maturity.”

5. Mr Alex Yam, MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC from the People’s Action Party (PAP) who supported the repeal on the condition that the proposed constitutional amendment protecting the definition of marriage is passed

"I acknowledge the passion and drive that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community has displayed over the years in its effort to repeal 377A. Many members of the community are measured, responsible and aware of the complexity of the issue. While we break down this barrier for what is in the private sphere, I continue to believe that this must not lead to the breakdown of the institution of marriage in the public sphere.”

6. Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Sustainability and the Environment who is PAP MP of Tampines GRC

“It is important that the members of Singapore's LGBTQ community are not discriminated against for choosing how to live their lives and for who they love. Nevertheless, changes in public perception will take time and we will act accordingly if and when these sentiments are ripe.”  

7. Mr Murali Pillai, PAP MP of Bukit Batok who raised a concern about an exclusion in the proposed constitutional amendment

“(The repeal) is about acknowledging that our laws reflect the changing realities of our times. This includes respecting the voices of all sections of society, including those of the youth. Based on the TODAY Youth Survey 2022, about two-thirds of our young adults agreed that the repeal of a law criminalising gay sex represents a step towards a more inclusive society.”  

He was referring to the amendment that nothing in Part 4 of the Constitution, which covers fundamental liberties such as freedom of speech and religion will invalidate any legislative definition of marriage.

Instead of excluding the entire Part 4, Mr Pillai said that he preferred if the amendment specified the provisions since “it would be ordinarily inimical to the concept of democracy and rule of law” to provide for “derogations to fundamental liberties”.

8. Mr Fahmi Aliman, PAP MP of Marine Parade GRC who is director of the operations and mobilisation division of the National Trades Union Congress

“I would like to raise three concerns pertaining to the repeal of Section 377A that relate to workplaces, family and education — specifically for madrasahs (Islamic religious schools) in Singapore. I call upon the Government to consider setting guidelines or advisories that will provide clear guidance towards discrimination at the workplace, and to fortify further the traditional family unit. There is also a concern over how the repeal will affect sexuality education taught in madrasahs. Therefore, the extent to which this Bill would influence sexuality education in madrasahs also ought to be studied further.”

9. Mr Henry Kwek, PAP MP of Kebun Baru

“Most of our youth want 377A gone, because it suggests that some Singaporeans are less than others. These views of our youth are not solely attributed to the influx of 'woke' culture from the West. For the past few decades, we have been building a kinder Singapore. Our schools have taught our children and youth the value of justice, empathy, and kindness. Naturally, our youth believes the dignity of every Singaporean matters.”

10. Mr Sharael Taha, PAP MP of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC

“While we should not curtail or suppress social activism for causes that our citizens believe in, we must also caution against extreme views and actions that may prove divisive to our society. In time to come, should values and norms here in Singapore ‘appreciably shift’ again, then we should be able to come together, sharing our views and reaching a consensus on how we best move forward. Activists in both camps need not think that they should resort to drastic measures to highlight their cause. Nor should any of us be influenced by foreign developments including pushing values from multinational corporations, which are not aligned with our Singaporean values.”

11. Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, PAP MP of Holland–Bukit Timah GRC

“The majority of the feedback that we’ve received online and face-to-face has a majority who express great anxiety about families, anxiety about the repeal and a deeper anxiety about the future. I believe that the amendments proposed today to repeal 377A help us avoid an abrupt and potentially disruptive confrontation in a court of law with a binary outcome and, perhaps, unpredictable and sometimes uncontrollable social and political consequences.” 

12. Mr Cheng Hsing Yao, Nominated MP

“The colonial law is outdated and ignores objective reality that Singapore is home to many gay citizens and residents, who are also contributing members of the Singapore society. To retain a law that criminalises a legitimate community of fellow Singaporeans in order to preserve traditional values is at best a stretched logic. There are other better ways to promote traditional values.”

13. Ms Jessica Tan, PAP MP of East Coast GRC

“One apprehension expressed by my residents is the safeguarding of the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and pro-family policies such as public housing, education, adoption rules and media standards. (Another is) the repeal of 377A will encourage gay activists to push the agenda much further and this may cause reactions and divisions in Singapore as we see happening in the world. (A third is) protecting people from being pressured, bullied or (subjected to discrimination) when they do not support the same ideas and beliefs — whether (it be) to retain or repeal Section 377A.”

14. Mr Darryl David, PAP MP of Ang Mo Kio GRC

“It is important not to embrace the 'cancel' culture or automatically rule out someone who holds radically different views or even someone who decides to look at the topic conservatively. Instead, it would be good to allow others their views, even if they may seem more traditional and less progressive, when viewed through certain lenses. It would also be good to consider education and consider how the schools can play a part in nurturing open conversations so that this topic is handled sensitively. Our schools must be safe places for students to engage in respectful conversations or debates with others who may hold contrary opinions.”

15. Mr Mark Chay, Nominated MP

“We need to ensure that the policies implemented uphold the equal protection of rights for Singaporeans who do not fit squarely into the definition of a traditional family unit. So, for instance, single-parent households, and LGBTQ Singaporeans, among others. After all, these people, and many others not mentioned, contribute to the diverse, vibrant, welcoming society that is so admired around the world.”

16. Mr Lim Biow Chuan, PAP MP of Mountbatten

“I also urge the Government to consider legislation to make it an offence for anyone to put out hate messages or derogatory comments just purely to intimidate others into keeping silent. This law should apply equally to those who are anti-gay and those gays who seek to bully others into silent submission. There should be no space for people to propagate hate messages within Singapore.”

17. Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim, PAP MP of Chua Chu Kang GRC

“I think it is important to actively engage families and parents on this issue and provide them with various avenues of counselling or parenting support. The same goes for our teachers and educators, too. For the Muslim community, a common feedback from mosque or organisation leaders, is that there is a need for clearer guidelines or capability training.”

He spoke about the need to repeal Section 377A since there is a high possibility that it will be struck down if it continues to be challenged in future court cases.

18. Mr Christopher de Souza, PAP MP of Holland–Bukit Timah GRC 

“I agree that there is a significant risk that Section 377A will be struck down by the courts in a future legal challenge. So the question to ask next is — do we wait or do we move first by shouldering the legislative responsibility of making hard decisions and deciding on what needs to be protected? It is clear in my mind that we must do the latter.”

OPPOSING REPEAL

1. Mr Dennis Tan, WP MP of Hougang who nevertheless supported the proposed constitutional amendment 

"Many Singaporeans I’ve spoken to have expressed concern that the removal of such a marker may make it difficult for parents to set down their family and social values at home. Many are also concerned they will be stopped from expressing their contrary views on sexuality after the repeal, including the fear of being cancelled."

2. Mr Gerald Giam, WP MP of Aljunied GRC who nevertheless supported the proposed constitutional amendment

“So many, especially those from the younger age groups are concerned that as the societal narrative shifts, they will find it harder to freely express their own beliefs without being labelled as homophobic. They worry about getting cancelled or suffering discrimination in school or at the workplace because of their beliefs. It is my sincere belief that retaining Section 377A without enforcing it provides the best balance of the conflicting interests in our society.”

3. Professor Hoon Hian Teck, Nominated MP

“I believe that not repealing the law fosters the achieving of the aims of the Government to keep the family formed out of marriage between a man and a woman as a cornerstone of our social fabric for as long as possible, in the face of the many challenges to such an understanding of the family as the unit that forms the basic structure of society.”

POSITION NOT EXPLICITLY STATED 

Some MPs did not explicitly state their stand on the repeal of Section 377A and the proposed constitutional amendment, but raised concerns that have been expressed by different members of society.

1. Ms Rahayu Mahzam, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Law who is PAP MP of Jurong GRC

“This is not a black-and-white issue. No single narrative or perspective can fully reflect the reality that we live in. And it is only by acknowledging these complexities that we can begin to forge a path forward for our community. We want a community that shows mercy and compassion to all, regardless of background or circumstances.”

Ms Rahayu talked about the conflicting concerns of discrimination faced by gay persons and people who do not accept “the gay lifestyle” but find it difficult to speak from a place of compassion for fear of being labelled as too conservative for sharing their views or too liberal for wanting to approach the gay community.

2. Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social and Family Development as well as for Home Affairs and PAP MP for Punggol West, who shared the concerns from LGBTQ groups and those who oppose the repeal of Section 377A

“On being 'cancelled' for one’s beliefs, the Government is looking into policy solutions to preserve space for persons of different views to safely share what they think. But ultimately, what is important is that we maintain mutual respect when we engage with one another, and not tear each other down.”

3. Miss Cheryl Chan Wei Ling, PAP MP of East Coast GRC

“I firmly believe that to repeal 377A, it must be done on the grounds where the recognised legal union between a man and woman is strongly protected by definition within the Constitution such that it prevents any attempt to amend the definition without a referendum by the legislature.” 

4. Ms Joan Pereira, PAP MP of Tanjong Pagar GRC who raised concerns about the divisions in society

“Unfortunately, we have come across voices that stir hatred and misunderstanding within our society and are exploiting fault lines within our social fabric. Such views can come from any quarter of society, and their ultimate aim is to push Singapore to an extreme corner of the spectrum without consideration as to whether this would be good for us. We need to unite and come as one.”

Click here for the latest news and reports on Section 377A.

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