PM Lee on 377a: 'An uneasy compromise, I’m prepared to live with it until social attitudes change'

He was asked if his perspective will change if any of his children or grandchildren were gay.

Martino Tan | February 28, 2017, 11:46 PM

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was recently interviewed on BBC HARDtalk, a current affairs interview programme that subjects its interviewees to nearly 30 minutes of tough questioning by its current host, Stephen Sackur.

The British news network has provided several teaser excerpts from the HARDtalk interview with PM Lee on Tuesday, ahead of its release on Wednesday.

One clip was on trade deals and human rights, a second discussed US-China relations, while a third clip covered the legality of homosexual sex in Singapore.

In case you don't happen to know what Section 377A is, it is the section of Singapore's penal code that criminalises gay sex.

Here's how it reads in our Statutes:

377A. Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years. Singapore Statutes online

Why is this issue interesting for Singaporeans?

It has been a while — four years, in fact — since PM Lee last discussed the contentious issue of Section 377A.

At the Singapore Perspectives conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies back in 2013, PM Lee said:

"These are not issues that we can settle one way or the other, and it's really best for us just to leave them be, and just agree to disagree. I think that's the way Singapore will be for a long time."

So what is his position four years later?

Below is the transcript of the exchange.

Sackur: Let me ask you personally, Prime Minister. I do not wish to sound rude in any way but…

LHL: You never are.

Sackur: But if any of your children or grandchildren were gay, would that change your perspective? Would you then think that it was unacceptable for consenting adults to be criminalised for in this way?

LHL: I think that it is a law which is there — if I remove it, I will not remove the problem because if you look at what has happened in the West, and in Britain, you decriminalised it in the 1960s, your attitudes have changed a long way but even now gay marriage is contentious. In America it is very contentious. Even in France, in Paris, they have had demonstrations in the streets against gay marriage.

Sackur: But what’s your personal view? Would you like, all things being equal, to get rid of 377A?

LHL: My personal view is that if I don’t have a problem — this is an uneasy compromise — I’m prepared to live with it until social attitudes change.

Sorry Sackur, no scoop for you.

It would certainly be a surprise if PM Lee announces a policy change in a BBC interview, even though he revealed recently that BBC is one of the news websites he leaves open on his desktop, together with the New York Times, Straits Times, and Channel NewsAsia.

The episode airs on BBC (StarHub TV Ch 701) on Wednesday at 12.30pm, 5.30pm and 11.30pm.


Related article:

PM Lee scores first on BBC ‘HardTalk’ trailer, but will he win the battle?

Top photo from BBC News Facebook page