Shanmugam: Govt looking at how to deal with Section 377A & safeguard current legal position on marriage

He said these matters ought not to be discussed and decided in the courts but in Parliament.

Belmont Lay | July 31, 2022, 11:10 PM

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Most Singaporeans do not want the current position of marriage being between a man and a woman to be changed, even though many of them agree that sex between men should not be a crime.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on July 30 that the government is considering how best to balance this.

He was responding to media queries about updates on the government’s efforts to seek views on the law, which criminalises sex between men.

The minister was speaking at the sidelines of events at Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre.

Extensive discussions on the ground so far

Shanmugam said the government has had extensive discussions with different people on Section 377A of the Penal Code.

These different groups included religious leaders, grassroots leaders, Singaporeans from all walks of life, as well as representatives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups.

“Many agree that men who have sex with each other should not be thrown into prison. Gay sex should not be criminalised,” he said.

"At the same time, most do not want any decriminalisation to cause other major changes.”

Most people, he noted, want the current position on marriage “to be retained”.

This current position, the conventional one, is defined by law as between a man and a woman.

Currently, Section 377A of the Penal Code makes it a crime for a man to commit any act of “gross indecency” with another man, whether in public or in private, and carries a jail term of up to two years.

But the law is not actively enforced.

This position on the law have reiterated by the authorities since it was discussed in Parliament in 2007.

Shanmugam said: “The two questions we are dealing with are therefore: One, what is to be done with 377A; and two, at the same time, we are also considering how we can safeguard the current legal position on marriage from legal challenges in courts so that it does not get challenged in the courts, like 377A was in a series of cases.”

Matter for Parliament to decide

He added that these matters ought not to be discussed and decided in the courts but in Parliament.

Shanmugam further urged those in Singapore to avoid taking extreme positions on the issue.

He said the way forward was to work out differences calmly for the sake of the country.

There have been several unsuccessful legal challenges mounted against Section 377A so far.

On Feb. 28, 2022, the Court of Appeal dismissed challenges brought by three men who argued that Section 377A should be struck down.

It was ruled that Section 377A will stay on the books but cannot be used to prosecute men for having gay sex.

Regarding Protect Singapore townhall

Shanmugam was also asked about Protect Singapore Townhall.

The gathering on July 23 called for the protection of marriage, family and children in light of the government contemplating a repeal of Section 377A.

The closed-door gathering was organised by Jason Wong, founder of Dads for Life and the Yellow Ribbon Project, as well as and Mohamed Khair, SuChi Success Initiatives chief executive officer.

No action will be taken against the organisers after several police reports were made against the event.

The authorities had said the gathering did not break any laws after the police reports were lodged and looked into.

Shanmugam explained this decision in relation to the Pink Dot event held in June 2022.

He said: “Likewise, the people who organise the Protect Singapore Townhall exercised their rights."

Both sides want to be heard

But he also stressed that authorities “will step in if there is any incitement and attacks or running down of any groups by either side".

"We can expect more of this, as both sides seek to get heard. And these events really illustrate what the government has been saying for a long time. That if one side pushes, then there will be a pushback. We have seen this happen in many countries."

"If it happens here in Singapore, we are a very small place. The ruptures will tear our social fabric apart, cause a lot of harm. This is why the government has been advocating moderation, moving carefully, not push positions which can damage society."

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