K Shanmugam: Government in the middle when it comes to laws on gay sex, but ultimately society has to decide

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Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said earlier today that it is ultimately up to Singapore’s society to decide its stance when it comes to legislation on gay sex. He added this is because that laws will have to change with shifts in societal views.

Minister Shanmugam’s comments come after a surprising landmark ruling by India’s Supreme Court on Thursday repealing a British colonial-era ban on gay sex.

According to section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code, a man found to have committed an act of “gross indecency” with another man could be jailed for up to two years.

However, Mr Shanmugam added that Singaporeans remain “deeply split” on the matter, with only a minority looking for section 377A to be repealed.

“Singapore … on this issue, it is a deeply split society. The majority oppose to any change to section 377A – they are opposed to removing it.

“A minority – I have to say, a growing minority – want it to be repealed. The Government is in the middle,” he added.

He also said that the Governement was in the middle with regards to its views.

Veteran diplomat Tommy Koh, who is Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had responded to the Indian ruling by encouraging Singapore’s gay community to “try again” to challenge 377A.

Previously, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, had also expressed that most Singaporeans would want to keep the statute and that Singapore society “is not that liberal on these matters”.

Mr Shanmugam then said, “This issue relates to social mores, values – so can you impose viewpoints on a majority when it so closely relates to a social value system?”

“The law is there but generally there have been no prosecutions for private conduct.

“People openly express themselves as gay, you got the gay parade, Police even approved a licensing for it, no-one gets prosecuted for declaring themselves as gay”, he said.

“So really when was the last time someone was prosecuted?”

He also recalled how founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had been “sympathetic” and “expressed his understanding for those who are gay”.

Mr Shanmugam then continued, “Speaking for myself, if you ask me, in a personal capacity, personal view, people’s lifestyles, sexual attitudes, (we) really should be careful about treating them as criminals or criminalising that.

“But again it will be wrong for me to impose my personal views on society or as a policymaker,” he qualified.

“We live our lives, live and let live. If one side pushes, you will expect a substantial push back.”

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obbana@theindependent.sg