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Singapore’s main opposition party will not call for anti-gay sex law repeal

Singapore’s main opposition party will not call for anti-gay sex law repeal

iLights Marina Bay, Singapore

Singapore’s main opposition party has said it will not call for the repeal of a law which criminalizes sex between men because there was no consensus within the party.

Pritam Singh, head of the Worker’s Party (WP), said it was detrimental to ‘politicize’ the issue. Instead, he urged people to put ‘family first’, engage in dialogue and respect individual consciences.

LGBTI rights advocates have called Singh’s comments ‘disappointing’, and showing a ‘lack of empathy’ for those affected by the law.

Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code is a remnant of the British colonial-era and prohibits sex between men.

The Singapore government has said that the law will not be actively enforced. But LGBTI rights proponents say its retention reinforces homophobia in the city-state.

A renewed call for repeal was mounted last year. But studies show that the majority of Singaporeans think Section 377A should remain.

‘Culture war over LGBT issues’

Singh made the comments at the Political Association Forum hosted by the National University of Singapore on Wednesday (3 April).

In his speech, Singh said that the WP ‘will not participate in the culture war over LGBT issues’.

‘The main issue with some in the liberal camp and their right-to-love campaigns is that they have unwittingly weaponized the concept of love for many of those in the middle, particularly those who do not take a position on the matter,’ Singh said.

‘[The] moral courage required to address the issue of Section 377A is not in reveling in the glory of taking absolute stances on what we believe is right, but in lowering ourselves, swallowing our pride and listening to another,’ he added.

Ready4Repeal, a group formed to campaign specifically for the abolition of Section 377A, expressed disappointment over Singh’s comments.

‘The WP statement demonstrates a lack of empathy with those who suffer because of a discriminatory law like Section 377A,’ Johannes Hadi, a lawyer who helped draft Ready4Repeal’s petition, told Gay Star News.

‘Yes, many Singaporeans may think that LGBTQ persons are deserving of condemnation. Yes, many Singaporeans may not be ready to treat LGBTQ persons as equals. But in difficult, polarizing times like this, true leadership calls us higher – to put aside our moral differences and put human solidarity first,’ Hadi added.

‘That is how a fractured society heals. True leadership shows society the way forward, and it is disappointing that the WP has chosen instead to defer to the status quo.’

An uphill battle 

Singapore saw a renewed push by LGBTI rights advocates to repeal Section 377A last year.

The groups were spurred on after India’s top court repealed Section 377. Due to a shared colonial history, Singapore’s penal code is heavily modeled on the Indian Penal Code.

Pink Dot, Singapore’s main LGBTI rights event, openly called for the repeal of Section 377A. Numerous other LGBTI rights groups have written to the government to request the abolition of the law.

However, polling has shown that the Singaporean public is in favor of retaining the law.

In September last year, over 100,000 people signed a petition in support of keeping Section 377A. It was more than twice the amount of signatures received by Ready4Repeal’s petition.

Singapore’s governing party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), has also been reluctant to address the issue. Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said the government would only consider abolishing Section 377A if a majority of the public supported the move.