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Singapore minister says society to decide whether to decriminalize gay sex

Singapore minister says society to decide whether to decriminalize gay sex

Singapore's home minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam speaks to press about Section 377A (Photo: YouTube)

Society has to decide whether to decriminalize gay sex, Singapore’s home affairs minister said Friday (7 September).

‘If you look at the issue, it is a deeply split society’, Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, Minister for Law and Home Affairs, said. ‘The majority are opposed to any change to Section 377A. They are opposed to removing it’.

Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code outlaws acts of ‘gross indecency’ between two men. Those convicted face up to two years in jail.

Shanmugam was responding to a question on India’s landmark ruling to decriminalize gay sex on Thursday.

The Supreme Court of India dismantled parts of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The similar colonial-era law punished gay sex with up to 10 years in prison.

Shanmugam told reporters a ‘growing minority’ opposed the law but the government remained ‘in the middle’.

‘Can you impose viewpoints on a majority when (the issue is) so closely related to social value systems?’ he asked.

‘I think society has got to decide which direction it wants to go. And the laws will have to keep pace with changes in society and how society sees these issues’.

‘Equality for ALL Singaporeans’

The LGBTI community does look to the government ‘to ensure equality and justice for  ALL Singaporeans, including LGBTQ Singaporeans’ said Leow Yangfa of  Singapore LGBTI organization, Oogachaga.

That’s why a collection of activist groups posted an open letter calling on the Singapore government to do more for LGBTI rights, Yangfa said.

Shanmugam said, in his opinion, care should be taken against criminalizing lifestyles and sexual attitudes. ‘But, it would be wrong for me to impose my personal views on society or as a policymaker’.

Yangfa said the minister had shown himself to be ‘somewhat impartial’. It was also ‘refreshing to hear his personal view on the matter’.

Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, also said he would wait until society changed before altering the law.

‘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,’ Lee told the BBC.

Meanwhile on Thursday, veteran Singapore diplomat Tommy Koh called on Singapore to follow India’s example.

‘I would encourage our gay community to bring a class action to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A,’ Professor Koh wrote on Facebook.

In 2014, Singapore’s Court of Appeal rejected a challenge that Section 377A violated the constitution.