WP's He Ting Ru, Jamus Lim & Louis Chua voice support for repealing 377A

The MPs spoke at length on why they found the law discriminatory and how it is important to recognise the definition of marriage that the majority of Singaporeans want.

Matthias Ang | November 29, 2022, 07:37 PM

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The Workers' Party (WP) Members of Parliament (MPs) for Sengkang GRC have given their support for the repeal of Section 377A.

He Ting Ru, Jamus Lim and Louis Chua stated their positions in Parliament on Nov, 29, at the two-day debate in parliament over repealing section 377a criminalising gay sex and endorsing changes to the constitution to protect the current definition of marriage from legal challenges.

With regard to the amendments to the constitution, both Chua and Lim announced that they are in favour, while He said that she would abstain.

WP MPs: Law is discriminatory

Lim draws an analogy with the criminalisation of interracial relationships

For Lim, he said that while the courts have previously ruled that 377A will not be prosecuted, this means that sexual relations between men remains, on the book, an arrestable offense.

In describing such a move as a slippery slope, Lim said that not enforcing 377A carries implications for Singapore's law if the country insists on instituting laws that simultaneously do not matter in practice.

"How many more de jure issues also do not matter, de facto?" he posited.

Lim also asked:

"Should we expect that (these) individuals will feel that they are a fair and equal part of society, when society has deigned it permissible to have a law that, even while unenforced, nevertheless explicitly condemns against their behaviour? Can we expect such individuals to truly feel that they are accepted as a part of Singaporean society, when Singaporean law declares them to be criminals?"

Lim also posited a hypothetical scenario in which interracial relationships are in a similar position with an unenforced law as an analogy.

"Is it fair to expect those who are in a mixed-race relationship to accept the assurance that such a sword of Damocles hanging over their relationship doesn’t really mean anything?" he asked.

Lim added that this is not too far from some "historical legacies" where certain forms of love were deemed illegal under the law, such as the criminalisation of interracial relationships in Germany, South Africa and 31 states in the U.S in the 1960s.

While he was not equating the two issues, Lim said his point is that his own marriage, along with that of his parents, which occurred between different ethnicities, would have fallen afoul of the law.

He: 377A is a contradiction to Singapore's pledge

Lim was echoed by He who said 377A sends a signal that one segment of society is so "morally reprehensible" that their identity should be considered criminal, even if it is only on paper.

"It excuses discriminatory behaviour, and contradicts the pledge we take, as citizens of Singapore, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality," He said.

Not repealing the law will therefore be at odds with steps that Singapore is taking towards a fairer and more equal society and will go against the government's announcement on legislating against discrimination, He added.

"I believe that the repeal of 377A plays its part in our move towards a more inclusive society," she said.

He also related a personal anecdote in which she met a man in her twenties, whom she had grown up with, then subsequently did not see for a decade when they moved to different cities.

In relating this person's experience of coming out to her, He said that she could not forget his fear, anguish and pain in his eyes, because of the fear of condemnation and disgust. She said,

"[H]e attended his sister’s wedding, where he felt compelled to tell lie upon lie to well-meaning relatives asking when would it be his turn to get married. He felt like a total charlatan, but overriding this was his greatest fear that he did not want to 'bring shame upon his parents'."

She said, "It is a whirlwind of emotions that I will never fully understand, and I would not wish this on anyone."

Chua: Has "very real repercussions" on LGBT Singaporeans

Chua highlighted that the law, despite being declared as "unenforceable in its entirety", has "very real repercussions" that affect many Singaporeans, their families and their loved ones.

Having 377A as a law means that it is hard to organize support groups to help not just members of the gay community – which is who the law targets – but also the wider LGBT community who face discrimination, bullying, or mental struggles just for being who they are, Chua pointed out.

"Schools and companies may think twice about setting up official LGBTQ+ groups or at least show overt support in counselling and supporting these individuals," he said.

Chua also referenced an incident earlier in July in which a school counsellor had presented content discriminating against the LGBT community before being suspended from all duties pending investigation.

The fact that there remains a legal route for prosecuting LGBT people has a specific state-sanctioned chilling effect on the community, he said.

In addition, retaining 377A makes Singapore look anachronistic, especially in light of its status as a financial hub, according to Chua.

In citing the repeal of similar laws in Hong Kong, China, India, Japan and Taiwan, Chua noted that having 377A has made it challenging to convince prominent members of the LGBT community in the arts, financial, tech and many other sectors, Singaporean or otherwise, to stay in the country and make meaningful contributions to society and the economy.

"The LGBTQ+ community’s joy of seeing 377A repealed would have been even greater if not for the fact that the move merely puts Singapore more in line with other cosmopolitan, open and inclusive societies," he added.

Still important to recognise that the majority of Singaporeans want marriage to be defined as one man and one woman

All three MPs also said that it was important to acknowledge however, that the majority of Singaporeans desire for marriage to be defined as between one man and one woman.

Lim: View is not just limited to those who are religious

For Lim, he highlighted that such a view should not be dismissed as those of an oppressive majority finally receiving their comeuppance.

"This is because I actually believe that such sentiments—even if seemingly misplaced—are genuine," he said.

According to Lim, such a view is not just limited to those who are religious.

He said:

"It is one that is accepted by broad segments of Singaporean society, almost to a point where it is regarded as self-evident among these groups. And to those within this group, their sense of identity and meaning is as much tied to heteronormativity as those who identify as homosexual tie theirs otherwise. Just as important, threats to these identities affect their behaviours and their welfare."

Lim added:

"It is for this reason that I do not see a decision to alter the constitution as essentially a compromise for the sake of political expediency, necessary for the repeal of 377A. Rather, it is the manner by which the state echoes what society, in general, believes in."

The MP also said that Parliament remained the appropriate forum to deliberate such matters.

"Keeping in mind that representative democracy will always be imperfect, it is nevertheless the closest system we have that reasonably aggregates the preferences of our people at large. And in our time, the significant majority of Singaporeans have articulated their preference for a clear reassurance that the institution of marriage be protected."

Lim also said that this could justify a constitutional amendment, given that it is a "live document" to serve the present generation.

"Consequently, I believe that it is reasonable that our Singaporean Constitution captures the key institutions that our society cherishes, which includes this cornerstone institution of marriage."

Chua: Social acceptance is crucial to preserve stability

In the case of Chua, he pointed out that repealing 377A does not mean that discrimination towards the LGBT community disappears overnight.

That discrimination still exists in the territories of Hong Kong, China, Japan, India, and many other jurisdictions where gay sex isn’t illegal per se serves as a reminder that social acceptance is crucial, to any landmark legal or constitutional changes, to maintain harmony and stability in society, he said.

Chua added:

"On the constitutional amendment that is being proposed, the message that Singapore sends is quite clear: the idea that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and this is a decision that will be left for the legislature and society to decide, and not by the courts."

As such, Chua said that he was cognisant of the importance of the signal the new Article 156 sends, to provide greater protection for the definition of marriage and related policies.

The MP further noted that in light of the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) announcing that media policies on homosexuality will remain, he is unable to bring his children to watch Lightyear, a Pixar animated children’s film due to “overt homosexual depictions”, as though homosexuality is unspeakable and cannot be seen.

He also called for awareness that LGBT individuals are invisible in the education curriculum, given that it will still be focused on what majority of society supports, which is family is between a man and a woman, according to the Ministry of Education.

Chua also quoted WP leader Pritam Singh who had said that it will take time for society to come together and create conditions for all Singaporeans to succeed, not feel marginalised and are tolerant of different Singaporeans in as far as the law allows.

"But it is all the more important for us to understand each other’s viewpoints, stay civil and respectful as we engage all members of society as Singapore becomes more inclusive and open," he said.

He: Concerns of those who feel repeal of 377A is a slippery slope is 'understandable'

As for He, she said that she understood the concerns of those who feel that the repeal of s377A will be a ‘slippery slope’ to further shifts in policy, which they feel are simply unacceptable, or will cause deep faults and divisions in society that are irreparable.

In pointing out that while 377A would likely have been struck down as it has also been criticised on legal grounds, one should not mix legality with morality.

He said:

"The repeal rejects a legal framework of discrimination, but parents remain able to educate our children and impart the moral lessons that we want within our household shaped by our own beliefs and faiths. The concerns relating to the silencing of certain groups are also I believe, understandable."

The MP then referenced Article 15 of Singapore's Constitution which guarantees the right to profess and practice one's religion, as well as to propagate it.

"And if there should be any proposed amendments to remove or water down the right to religious freedom in Singapore, I will not hesitate to oppose it," she added.

He voices concern for constitutional amendment

He also voiced out her concern regarding the proposed constitutional amendment.

She highlighted how Articles 156(3)(b) and (4) prevent laws and policies relating to the heterosexual definition of marriage from

being challenged in court on the basis of the fundamental liberties provisions in the Constitution.

This is a cause for some concern, He said, given that the courts have always been conscious of the concept of parliamentary sovereignty – giving precedence to Parliament's lawmaking function of Parliament, and are cognisant of not overstepping the line into judicial law-making.

"Perhaps in taking fright at the 'phantom menace' of judicial activism, we may be losing sight of a more fundamental principle: that the judiciary should be the ultimate arbiter of the constitutionality of legislation, and has an important role in safeguarding the fundamental liberties protected therein."

She added:

"If we were to pass this constitutional amendment today that prevents the Courts from determining the constitutionality of a legislative policy, what would stop a future Parliament from passing discriminatory legislation and then shielding it from judicial oversight?"

He added that it was on such concerns that she was therefore abstaining from the amendments proposed to the Constitution.

Top Photos via MCI/YouTube