Archive for October, 2007

And the verdict is out

Posted on October 24, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The government has decided to keep the S377A. Is it a wise choice? It remains to be seen.

They have promised to not ‘enforce’ on the act, which is contridictory to the purpose of having it there in the first place, but I guess, it does give people space for their personal freedom. While it sounds absurd, it is indeed a good move.

At least the government addressed the issue, at least the government showed concern, discernment and made careful decisions that mattered to the entire society.

Some things, like what PM said, required some patience, and in this case, perhaps, all that needs to be done to grant some equality to all requires time as well. It happens in almost all societies in the world, but I appreciate the way Singapore handled it.

Here are some abstracts from the leading local daily, The Straits Times..

Gays born that way? Jury’s still out on that one, says MP

Mr Lim Biow Chuan one of nine PAP backbenchers to speak on Section 377A
By Goh Chin Lian

CLEAR STANCE: Mr Lim said that although he disagreed with homosexual practice, he is not against gays.

WHILE he is all for respecting homosexuals, MP Lim Biow Chuan (Marine Parade GRC) does not believe gays are born that way.Rising to speak immediately after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Lim yesterday took a different view from that of the PM, who said there is a growing body of scientific evidence that sexual orientation is substantially inborn.

Said Mr Lim: ‘With the greatest respect to the prime minister, I must state that I do not think there is conclusive evidence that homosexual behaviour is inborn.

‘The jury is out on this issue and different scientists would have different views on the matter.’

PM Lee had joined the debate on a citizens’ petition to repeal the law criminalising sex between men.

Urging the various groups to leave Section 377A alone, PM Lee said there is space in Singapore for all, including homosexuals, to live together.

DEBATE

‘In addition to the delicious rendang and ketupat, Section 377A became a hot topic of discussion during my Hari Raya visits and gathering.’

Acknowledging their place in Singapore, Mr Lim said that while he disagreed with homosexual practice, he was not against gays.

‘I have friends who are gay and my approach to them is simply that I do not agree with your lifestyle, but I would respect you for who you are.

‘If you are a decent chap, an honest and hardworking person, your sexual orientation or preference does not affect the way I see you. I would treat you and respect you as another fellow citizen.’

Mr Lim was one of nine PAP backbenchers who devoted at least part of their speech yesterday on the amendments to the Penal Code, to the law against sex between men.

MPs who favoured retaining the law such as Mr Lim, Mr Ong Kian Min (Tampines GRC) and Dr Muhammad Faishal (Marine Parade GRC), argued that most Singaporeans are not ready to accept homosexual acts as a way of life.

They also said the petition to repeal the law has prompted residents in their wards to contact them to express their disapproval and even outrage with it, as well as unease with how the issue might evolve.

The Malay community gave similar feedback, said Dr Faishal.

Mr Ong said the bulk of Singaporeans are not prepared to compromise their family values.

They want to preserve the traditional family unit of a father, a mother and children, at a time when it is threatened by rising divorce rates, single-parent households and work pressure.

‘By condoning homosexuality, we are effectively initiating a shift in the definition of the family unit… Singaporeans are simply not ready to change their family values and endorse homosexuality as normal,” he said.

Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC) made a similar call to uphold the traditional family unit and values.

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) disagreed with Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong, who had presented the petition, that retaining the law constituted the tyranny of a majority.

‘I would be the first to stand up for a gay man’s right to be treated as an equal under the law.

‘Yet, I am an MP who believes that as a nation, our families are not ready to have an open acceptance of the gay lifestyle, including same-sex marriages and gay adoption of young children.’

This, he said, is ‘a matter of principle, not of numbers’.

Gay Singaporeans continue to have their private space here, noted Dr Faishal. ‘I do not think the community’s rights are being put under the microscope.’

Madam Ho Geok Choo (West Coast GRC), noting an undercurrent of hostility surrounding the discussion, called for cool heads.

She said: ‘I appeal to all interest groups and interested individuals to discuss the issue in a calm and peaceful manner befitting a civil and civilised society.’

FROM THE GALLERY

Space for everybody, but one step at a time

By Lee Siew Hua, Senior Political Correspondent
LEAVE Section 377A alone. But also know there is space for all in Singapore.This is a bottom line that strives to be as balanced and symmetrical as it can be. And in laying it down over a shifting social landscape, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reveals a little more of his style in navigating the untidy eddies and the moral tussles in the life of a modern nation:

The journey ahead will have to be step by step. Sorry, no avant-garde leaps.

He focused his whole speech on this one strand of legislation, while not commenting on the rest of the Penal Code.

It is a telling choice, for the seeming smallness of Section 377A belies the possibility that it can warp parts of the social fabric if not handled with the deftness or the heart it deserves.

A hint of what may unravel in society came across in his warning: ‘The more gay activists push this agenda, the stronger will be the push-back from conservative forces in our society…

‘The result will be counterproductive because it’s going to lead to less space for the gay community in Singapore.

‘So it’s better to let the situation evolve gradually.’

The desire to move gradually over uneven terrain is an echo of his much-dissected 2004 speech at the Harvard Club of Singapore, when he said:

‘We will have to feel our way forward, crossing the river stone by stone, to use Deng Xiaoping’s phrase.’

Stone by slippery stone in a river. That’s where the ‘balance’ that he repeatedly alluded to in his speech comes into play.

His hope is for a stable society with traditional heterosexual family values – but with space for homosexuals to live and contribute to society.

So here is a sense that the Prime Minister is decisive on the imperative of balance, but in certain aspects is feeling his way ahead, with Singaporeans on all sides watching – and the more vocal ones urging that he step in opposite directions.

There is ‘no perfect balance’, as he readily acknowledged to an intently listening Chamber.

But that is the art of politics in engaging some of the changing segments of Singapore that are more noisy, conviction-filled and space-seeking than before.

And the negotiations over moral issues are nowhere as structured as other battles, even that against an unruly beast like dengue.

To some delight, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Environment and Water Resources), told the Chamber that in the search-and-destroy operations against dengue in Bukit Batok, the inspectors could on occasion tell her how many mosquito-friendly buckets some households harboured.

Neither are moral questions rapidly resolved, the way the Orchard Road beggars and tissue-paper peddlers are whisked away, as the House earlier heard.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s presentation was also striking for the way he addressed the gay community directly.

He saw in their midst responsible, invaluable, highly respected contributing members of society. Many are our friends, relatives, colleagues, siblings, brothers and sisters or some of our children, he said.

But, he also saw through the orchestrated push that gay activists have staged to compel the Government to talk about Section 377A openly.

He stopped short at saying there may be a backlash from society, choosing instead the more calibrated ‘push back’.

One constant in all this tussling is that he will keep an eye on cohesion in the Singapore family.

After all, the gays are also ‘our kith and kin’, he said.

The idea of Singapore being a family was also taken up by Members of Parliament on both sides of the debate. The collective hope seems to be that as debates over values intensify, the family keeps its colourful differences but will not descend into dysfunction.

At another level, the family has been fundamental to Singapore policy in pervasive ways. It is built into the Housing Board allocation policies, with families favoured over singles, for instance.

So the constancy and sanctity of the family remains paramount, even as the world changes, and even as the sleeping Victorian-era Section 377A inherited from Britain was reawakened for a new debate in another era, another land, yesterday.

The whole episode is fascinating for what it reveals of the shifts in Singapore life, and its governance.

It is not unexpected, for cultural wars have been heating up in the United States and elsewhere, and we expect people to sincerely hold positions on values.

And certainly there will be more untidiness ahead that cannot be regulated away, but will demand greater resourcefulness, harder thinking, truer debate. Yesterday showed that this is not an easy road for all, but worthwhile.

Let’s convince the majority to do what is fair: Charles Chong

By Keith Lin

REFLECT REALITIES: Respect the private space of those who are born different from us, said Mr Charles Chong. — TNP FILE PHOTO

MP CHARLES Chong wants the Government to show leadership on Section 377A – by updating it to better reflect the realities on the ground.And among the moves would be not to criminalise ‘acts done in private between consenting adults’, and to make the provisions of the law gender-neutral.

‘We should show leadership and convince the majority to do what is fair, just and representative of the age in which we live,’ said the MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol.

Speaking after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said there should be no change to Section 377A, Mr Chong said he would not hide behind the views of the ‘conservative majority’.

If the experts are correct in their view that some people are born with a different sexual orientation, then ‘it would be quite wrong of us to criminalise and to persecute those that are born different from us regardless of how conservative a society we claim to be’, he argued.

‘We also claim to be a secular and inclusive society. We should therefore respect the private space of those who are born different from us, as much as we expect them to respect our common space.’

Besides, enforcing this would be onerous without what he called ‘religious vigilantes’ to spy on the goings-on in bedrooms and hotel rooms, he said.

‘And is it really the business of Government to regulate acts between consenting adults born with different sexual orientations in the privacy of their bedrooms?’

Another aspect of Section 377A which he took issue with was the fact that only men engaged in such acts are deemed to have run foul of the law.

‘The section criminalises acts of gross indecency in public and in private only if it is engaged between men. Now surely the minister must acknowledge that women are as capable as men of committing such acts.

‘Is Section 377A therefore as it stands a correct statement of our values and principles? Or are there no lesbians in Singapore?’

He added that Section 377A should be extended to protect women from the unwanted sexual advances of other women.

Now, only men who solicit or attempt to solicit sex from another man can be charged under the law.

Noting that there were concerns about the drastic consequences for society if Section 377A was repealed, he reminded them of similar concerns from the past.

A senior politician, who he did not name, argued that the removal of a regulation would lead to ‘conflicts, fights and murders’.

‘Well, we have abolished that archaic regulation and permitted bar- top dancing for some years already and the world has not come to an end yet,’ he quipped.

Baey: Let’s air gay issues to spur greater awareness

MP BAEY Yam Keng hopes the Government will create an environment to foster greater debate on gay issues.Doing so will allow more Singaporeans to reach an informed opinion on whether gay sex should be criminalised, said the MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC yesterday.

Speaking in both English and Mandarin, Mr Baey’s heartfelt speech also gave, at times, his personal take on the decision to keep the Penal Code’s Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men.

Recounting an anecdote to highlight the impact of retaining the law, he spoke of a gay friend who could not muster the courage to reveal it to his parents.

‘He disclosed this secret to his father only at his grave, and till today, his mother still does not know of his sexual orientation,’ Mr Baey said.

He noted that while both proponents and opponents of the law have spoken ‘publicly and rationally, the majority of Singaporeans continue to be indifferent about the issue’.

Part of the reason, he said, was that many Singaporeans are ignorant about homosexuality.

For instance, he received public feedback that if gay sex is not criminalised, there will be an increase in homosexual activity, and hence more Aids patients.

‘The fact that in 2006, of the new Aids cases in Singapore, homosexual transmission constituted only 26 per cent, does not seem to register clearly with the public,’ he said.

Most Singaporeans are also likely to have negative stereotypes of homosexuals, such as of them preying on young boys, as often depicted in the media.

In his Mandarin speech, Mr Baey said some gay men never disclose it to their parents, for fear of bringing shame and sorrow to their families.

Hence, there should be more dialogue on such issues to spur greater understanding of what being gay means, he said.

Institutions such as the Law Society, on their part, should also speak up on the issue to raise the quality of the debate.

‘Hopefully we will move, and not play catch up, with the pace of changes around the world that are affecting people’s lives,’ Mr Baey said.

Why we should leave Section 377A alone: PM

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke yesterday on Section 377A, which criminalises gay sex. Here are edited excerpts from his remarks

PATIENCE REQUIRED: ‘The more gay activists push this agenda, the stronger will be the push-back from conservative forces in our society… And the result will be counter-productive because it’s going to lead to less space for the gay community in Singapore. So it’s better to let the situation evolve gradually.’ – PM LEE

‘Mr Speaker Sir, this parliamentary debate is on the amendments to the Penal Code, but the hottest debate is on one section which is not being amended – Section 377A.Both Mr Siew Kum Hong and Professor Thio Li-Ann quoted me with approval in their speeches yesterday so I think I should state my position, and the Government’s position on this matter.

Because of the review of the Penal Code and the amendments, I think the gay community and the activists have staged a push to get the Government to open this subject and to abolish Section 377A.

They have written an open letter to me as PM. They’ve also petitioned Parliament on this issue on the grounds of constitutional validity and the constitutional argument was made by Mr Siew Kum Hong yesterday in Parliament.

I don’t have to go into the details. It was rebutted very cogently by Indranee Rajah and very passionately by Prof Thio Li-Ann.

They are not my legal adviser. I take my legal advice from the Attorney-General and his advice to the Government is quite clear: The continued retention of Section 377A would not be a contravention of the Constitution.

The Government has not taken this matter lightly. We had a long discussion among the ministers; we had an extensive public consultation on the Penal Code amendments; and we decided, on this issue, to leave things be.

So let me today focus on the policy issue – what we want the law to be – and explain our thinking, our considerations, why we came to this conclusion.

I would ask these questions: What is our attitude towards homosexuality? ‘Our’ meaning the Government’s attitude and Singaporeans’ attitude, too; and how should these attitudes and these values be reflected in our legislation.

Many Members have said this, but it’s true and it’s worth saying again: Singapore is basically a conservative society. The family is the basic building block of this society. It has been so and by policy, we have reinforced this, and we want to keep it so.

And by family in Singapore we mean one man, one woman marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit.

And if you look at the way our Housing Board flats are, our neighbourhoods, our new towns, that’s by and large the way Singaporeans live. It’s not so in other countries, particularly in the West anymore, but it is here.

I acknowledge that not everybody fits into this mould. Some are single, some have more colourful lifestyles, some are gay. But a heterosexual, stable family is a social norm. It’s what we teach in schools. It’s what parents want to see, want their children to see as their children grow up, to set their expectations and encourage them to develop in this direction.

And I think the vast majority of Singaporeans want to keep it this way, want to keep our society like this, and so does the Government.

But at the same time, we should recognise that homosexuals are part of our society. They are our kith and kin.

This is not just in Singapore, this is so in every society, in every period of history, back to prehistoric times – or at least as long as there have been records, biblical times and probably before.

What makes a person gay or homosexual? Well, partly it could be the social environment.

If we look at ancient Greece and Romans, it was quite normal for men to have homosexual relationships – an older man with a young boy. And it doesn’t mean that that’s all they do. They have wives, they have children, but socially that’s the practice. So I think the social environment has something to do with it. But there is growing scientific evidence that sexual orientation is something which is substantially inborn. I know some will strongly disagree with this, but the evidence is accumulating.You can read the arguments and the debates on the Internet.

And just to take one provocative fact: Homosexual behaviour is not observed only amongst human beings, but amongst many species of mammals.

So, so too in Singapore. There is a small percentage of people, both male and female, who have homosexual orientations and they include people ‘who are often responsible, invaluable and highly respected contributing members of society’. I quote from the open letter which the petitioners have written to me.

And it is true. They include people who are responsible, invaluable, highly respected contributing members of society. And I would add that among them are some of our friends, our relatives, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, or some of our children.

They too must have a place in this society and they too are entitled to their private lives. We shouldn’t make it harder than it already is for them to grow up and to live in a society where they are different from most Singaporeans.

And we also don’t want them to leave Singapore to go to more congenial places to live.

But homosexuals should not set the tone for Singapore society.

Nor do we consider homosexuals a minority in the sense that we consider, say, Malays and Indians as minorities, with minority rights protected under the law – languages taught in schools, culture celebrated by all races, representation guaranteed in Parliament through GRCs and so on. And this is the point which Ms Indranee Rajah made yesterday in a different way.

This is the way Singapore society is today. This is the way the majority of Singaporeans want it to be.

So we should strive to maintain a balance: to uphold a stable society with traditional heterosexual family values, but with space for homosexuals to live their lives and to contribute to the society.

We’ve gradually been making progress towards achieving a closer approximation to this balance over the years. I don’t think we will ever get the perfect balance, but I think that we have a better arrangement now than was the case 10 or 20 years ago.

Homosexuals work in all sectors, all over the economy; in the public sector as well, and in the civil service as well. They are free to lead their lives, free to pursue their social activities.

But there are restraints and we do not approve of them actively promoting their lifestyle to others or setting the tone for mainstream society.

They live their lives, that’s their personal life, it’s their space. But the tone of the overall society, I think it remains conventional, it remains straight and we want it to remain so.

So, for example, the recent case of Mr Otto Fong, who is a teacher in Raffles Institution. He’s gay, he’s a good teacher by all accounts. He put up a blog which described his own sexual inclinations and explained how he was gay. And he circulated it to his colleagues and it became public.

So, (the) Ministry of Education looked at this, the school spoke to the teacher. The teacher understood that this was beyond the limit, because what you live is your own thing. But what you disseminate comes very close to promoting a lifestyle. So spoke to him, he took down his blog, he posted an explanation, he apologised for what he had done and he continues teaching in RI today.

So there is space, there are limits.

De facto, gays have a lot of space in Singapore. Gay groups hold public discussions, they publish websites, I’ve visited some of them. There are films, plays on gay themes. In fact sometimes people ask ‘Why are there so many? Aren’t there other subjects in the world?’ But since we have allowed it the last few years, maybe this is a letting off of pressure. Eventually, we will find a better balance.

There are gay bars and clubs. They exist. We know where they are. Everybody knows where they are. They don’t have to go underground. We don’t harass gays. The Government does not act as moral policeman. And we don’t proactively enforce Section 377A on them.

But this doesn’t mean that we have reached a broad social consensus that this is a happy state of affairs, because there are still very different views among Singaporeans on whether homosexuality is acceptable or morally right. And we heard these views aired in Parliament over these last two days…

Some are convinced, passionately so, that homosexuality is an abomination, to quote Prof Thio Li-Ann’s words yesterday. Others, probably many more, are uncomfortable with homosexuals, more so with public display of homosexual behaviour. Yet others are more tolerant and accepting.

There’s a range of views.There’s also a range of degrees to which people are seized with this issue. Many people are not that seized with this issue. And speaking candidly, I think the people who are very seized with this issue are a minority. And (for) the majority of Singaporeans, well, it is something which they are aware of, but it’s not at the top of their consciousness – including I would say, among them, a significant number of gays themselves.

Also I would say amongst the Chinese-speaking community in Singapore. Chinese-speaking Singaporeans, they are not as strongly engaged either for removing 377A or against removing 377A. Their attitude is live and let live.

And so even in this debate, these two days, you will have noticed there have been very few speeches made in Parliament in Mandarin on this subject. I know Mr Baey Yam Keng made one this afternoon, but Mr Low Thia Khiang did not. And it reflects the focus of the Chinese-speaking ground and their mindsets. So for the majority of Singaporeans, the attitude is a pragmatic one – we live and let live.

The current legal position in Singapore reflects these social norms and attitudes, as Miss Indranee Rajah and Mr Hri Kumar explained yesterday.

It is not legally neat and tidy. Mr Hri Kumar gave a very professional explanation of how untidy it is. But it is a practical arrangement that has evolved out of our historical circumstances.We are not starting from a blank slate, trying to design an ideal arrangement. Neither are we proposing new laws against homosexuality.

We have what we have inherited and what we have adapted to our circumstances. And as Mr Hri Kumar pointed out, we inherited Section 377A from the British – imported from the English Victorian law, from the period of Queen Victoria in the 19th century, via the Indian Penal Code, via by the Straits Settlement Penal Code into Spore law.

Asian societies don’t have such laws: not in Japan, not in China, not in Taiwan.

But it’s part of our landscape. We have retained it over the years. So the question is, what do we want to do about it now? Do we want to do anything about it now?

If we retain it, we are not enforcing it proactively. Nobody has argued for it to be enforced very vigorously in this House.

If we abolish it, we may be sending the wrong signal that our stance has changed and the rules have shifted.

But because of the Penal Code amendments, Section 337A has become a symbolic issue – the point for both opponents and proponents to tussle around.

The gay activists want it removed. Those who are against gay values and lifestyle argue strongly to retain it. And both sides have mobilised to campaign for their causes.

There was a petition to remove Section 377A. It accumulated a couple of thousand signatures and was presented in this House. Therefore there was a counter-petition to retain it which collected 15,000 signatures, at least according to the newspapers I haven’t counted the signatures – 16,000, 15560 signatures. Probably gone up since last we started speaking.

Also with an open letter to me. And the ministers and I, we have received many e-mails and letters on this subject. And I have received e-mails too in my mailbox. Very well written, all following a certain model answer style. So it’s a very well organised campaign.

And not only writing letters but people, constituents have visited MPs at Meet-the-People Sessions to see the MP, not because there’s anything they want done, but to congratulate the MP on what a good Government this is that we are keeping Section 377A, and ‘please stay a good Government and please don’t change it’.

So I don’t doubt the depth of the sentiments and the breadth of the support. But it’s also a very well organised pressure campaign.

But I’m not surprised that this issue is still contentious because even in the West, even when they have liberalised, homosexuality still remains a very contentious issue.

They decriminalised homosexual acts decades ago, in the 1960s, ’70s. And they have gone a long way towards accepting gays in society. They not only have gays in prominent places – if you want to have a complete Cabinet or a complete line-up when you go for elections, you must have some on your list so that you’re seen to have been inclusive. Certainly so in Europe. Also true in America.

But still, the issue is bitterly disputed. So in America, there are fierce debates over gay rights and same-sex marriages. And the conservatives in America are pushing back. President George Bush has been calling for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and not between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. This is in America.

So the issue is still joint.

Even within the churches, it’s a hot subject. The Anglican Church, Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, he had liberal views on gay issues. He became the Archbishop. He’s moderated his views because he has to reflect the church as a whole.

And even within the church – the church in England, the church in America – have a very serious disagreement with the Anglican churches in Asia and in Africa, who almost split away on this issue of ordination of gay people as bishops.

And they’ve patched up and compromised recently in America. And the Archbishop of Canterbury, who’s head of the church, had to plead with the community to come to some understanding so that they maintain the Anglican communion.

So this is not an issue where we can reach happy consensus.

And abolishing Section 377A, were we to do this, is not going to end the argument in Singapore.

Among the conservative Singaporeans, the deep concerns over the moral values of society will remain.

And among the gay rights activists, abolition isn’t going to give them what they want because what they want is not just to be free from Section 377A, but more space and full acceptance by other Singaporeans. And they said so.

So supposing we move on 377A, I think the gay activists will push for more, following the examples of other avant garde countries in

Europe and America – to change what is taught in the schools, to advocate same-sex marriages and parenting, to ask for ‘exactly the same rights as a straight man or woman’. This is quoting from the open letter which the petitioners wrote to me.

And when it comes to these issues, the majority of Singaporeans will strenuously oppose these follow-up moves by the gay campaigners. And many who are not anti-gay will be against this agenda. And I think for good reason.

Therefore, we’ve decided to keep the status quo on Section 377A. It’s better to accept the legal untidiness and the ambiguity. It works, don’t disturb it.

Mr Stuart Koe, who is one of the petitioners, was interviewed yesterday and he said he wanted the Government to remove the ambiguity and clarify matters.

He said the current situation is like having a ‘gun put to your head and not pulling the trigger. Either put the gun down, or pull the trigger’.

First of all, I don’t think it’s like that. Secondly, I don’t think it’s wise to try to force the issue. If you try and force the issue and settle the matter definitively one way or the other, we are never going to reach an agreement within Singapore society.

People on both sides hold strong views. People who are presently willing to live and let live will get polarised and no views will change because many of the people who oppose it do so on very deeply held religious convictions, particularly the Christians and the Muslims; and those who propose it on the other side, they also want this as a matter of deeply felt fundamental principle.

So discussion and debate is not going to bring them closer together. And instead of forging a consensus, we will divide and polarise our society.

I should therefore say that as a matter of reality, that the more gay activists push this agenda, the stronger will be the push-back from conservative forces in our society, as we are beginning to see already in this debate and over the last few weeks and months. And the result will be counter-productive because it’s going to lead to less space for the gay community in Singapore. So it’s better to let the situation evolve gradually.

We are a completely open society. Members have talked about it, the Internet, travel, full exposure. We cannot be impervious to what’s happening elsewhere. As attitudes around the world change, this will influence the attitudes of Singaporeans.

As events, developments around the world happen, we must watch carefully and decide what we do about it.

When it comes to issues like the economy, technology, education, we’d better stay ahead of the game… moving and adapt faster than others; ahead of the curve, leading the pack.

And when necessary in such issues, we will move even if the issue is unpopular or controversial. So we are moving on CPF changes; we are moving on so many economic restructuring changes, we move on integrated resorts. It’s a difficult subject. Not everybody supports the Government, but we decide this is right, we move.

On moral values, on issues of moral values, with consequences to the wider society, first we should also decide what is right for ourselves.

But secondly, before we are carried away by what other societies do. I think it’s wiser for us to observe the impact of radical departures from traditional norms on early movers. These are changes which have very long lead times before the impact works through, before you see whether it’s wise, unwise, is this positive? Does it help you to adapt better? Does it lead to a more successful, happier, more harmonious society? So we will let others take the lead. We will stay one step behind the frontline of change; watch how things work out elsewhere before we make any irrevocable moves.

We were right to uphold the family unit when Western countries went for experimental lifestyles in the 1960s – the hippies, free love, all the rage. We tried to keep it out. It was easier then. All you had was LPs and 45 RPM records, not this Cable Vision and the Internet and travel today.

But I’m glad we did that because today, if you look at Western Europe, where marriage as an institution is dead, families have broken down, the majority of children are born out of wedlock and live in families where the father and the mother are not the husband and wife living together, bringing them up. And we’ve kept the way we are. I think that has been right.

I think we have also been right to adapt, to accommodate homosexuals in our society, but not to allow or encourage activists to champion gay rights (as) they do in the West.

So I suggest, Mr Speaker, and I suggest to the Members of the House, we keep this balance, leave Section 377A alone. I think there is space in Singapore and room for us to live harmoniously and practically all as Singapore citizens together.’

Let’s move on, says NMP after 377A plea is rejected

By Li Xueying
THE citizens’ petition to repeal Section 377A has been rejected and the man behind it is moving on.Nominated MP and lawyer Siew Kum Hong was instrumental in putting together the petition, inked with 2,341 signatures. It called for the abolition of Section 377A, a part of the Penal Code that deems sex between men a crime.

The petition likely marked the first attempt by a local interest group to use formal parliamentary procedures to change the law.

Parliament discussed it on Monday and Tuesday as it sat to debate the changes to the Penal Code.

Mr Siew told The Straits Times last night that he felt the debate was a ‘healthy sign of democracy’, as disagreements were aired respectfully as the law came under scrutiny.

Going by the rules, the Public Petitions Committee, comprising seven MPs, would have met to consider the petition, after which it would have submitted a report to Parliament.

However, on Monday, Leader of the House Mah Bow Tan moved to suspend the rule, or standing order, requiring the petition to be referred to the committee. Parliament agreed.

This was so that MPs could refer to the petition as they debated Section 377A and the Penal Code. Otherwise, they would not have been able to do so, as this could prejudice the committee as it considered its report.

What this means is that with the end of the parliamentary debate, the petition process also ended.

How did Mr Siew feel about it?

‘The overwhelming response and feeling is a sense of relief that it’s over,’ he said.

‘But at the same time, it’s not over for many people out there, and that is the tragedy.’

He had not expected the Government to repeal the law, he said, but it was not all in vain.

‘This has been a useful and important debate in Parliament, I don’t recall 377A being debated in this manner before, and that in itself is a significant and positive development,’ he said.

Asked if he will continue to represent the gay community, Mr Siew said he had no such plans for now, as he had other issues he wished to concentrate on.

‘Now let us move on,’ he said. ‘The world does not begin and end at 377A.’

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Repeal S377A

Posted on October 23, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Today, I had an interesting and extended lunch with some colleagues and clients. Of the table top topics discussed, the controversial issue on the repeal of the S377A surfaced.

Recently in Singapore, the local government went on an excercise to review the Penal Code, an act in the Singapore legislature that deals with criminal offences. One of the sections that was under review was the S377A, a section that makes homosexual sex  amongst men criminal.

Under the Penal Code, last revised in 1998 (not this section, it was adapted years ago from British Common Law), S377 A states the following:

“Outrages on decency.
377A. Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.” - http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/

After a round of public display of opinions, for and against the review of this section, the government announced that they will not remove the section from the Penal Code. Citing reasons that the Singapore public not being ready for it.

Some activists of gay rights then begun a website, http://www.repeal377a.com/ to garner public signatories to put together an ‘open letter’ of appeal to the Prime Minister of Singapore to repeal the decision made in parliament.As a controversial topic, the media loved the story and many articles were written about it.

A nominated member of parliament agreed to bring the issue up in Parliament for discussion, sparking anti-homosexual activities to take action by seting up rival website http://www.keep377a.com/. They had asked for signatories and participation to urge the government to keep the S377A.

Over the course of today and tomorrow, parliament is in session and this issue is part of the agenda. As the events are unfolding, I add my two cents worth of comments and thoughts on the issue.

S377A is indeed discriminatory. The section prohibits the engagement in sexual acts by two men (males), regardless if they are in consent, regardless if it is in private.

Firstly, if two women go to bed in a lesbian act, it is not illegal under the current interpretation of the S377A. It is specifically targetted, unfairly, at homosexual men.

Secondly, the act forbids the act regardless of whether the two men are consenting adults or not. Segregating the homosexuals, who are equal contributors to the economy, and discriminating againtst them. This means that two men who are in love with each other, cannot have sex, even if the act happens in private.

Over the past few weeks, there are many arguements that have been put forth in the public forums / platforms. They are generally in the following arguement threads:

Repealing the act will set forth an open spree of homosexual activities
If the act is repealed, does it change social perception towards homosexuality? No. Does it allow people (in this case men) to have sex in public or go on a sex spree? No. It merely allows two consenting adults to engage in sex in a private space.

Let me explain. To be ‘legal’ the following must be accomplished:
1) It must be two consenting adults. Otherwise, C224 S375 – RAPE comes into play.
2) It must be of adults that are above legal age, otherwise, S38 – The Children and Young Persons Act comes into play
3) The act must be done in private. Otherwise, C224 S295 – Obscene Songs comes into play

As it pens out, the Singapore legal system is robust and well covered. What is the material implication of removing the S377A?
– Men can now have sex with the same gender (much like lesbians today, theoritically) in private space, in consent and of legal age.

Further, the section is in the wrong place. It is now classified in the PENAL CODE, a body of laws relating to crimes and offenses and the penalties for their commission. Even if it is morally unacceptable, it should not be criminal.

Some argued that this might open the flood-gates for future amendments to the other laws and therefore, set forth an acceptance of homosexual lifestyles in Singapore. I personally think that this is a weak arguement, a topic of a seperate discussion. Why link it to a clear cut case of a discriminatory section within the Penal Code?

Does the section here explicitly endorse homosexual lifestyles? No it doesn’t. In fact, it would be naive to believe that the fabric of society will be changed by removing a single section within an act.  So, on a case-by-case basis, we need to examine the implications of every step. Lumping it together creates a convoluted arguement that is neither reflective of the true meaning nor meaningful for the discussion.

Repealing the act has serious implications on the morality of society
This arguement is untrue. The section does not endorse, nor condemn homosexuality. It relates to an act. The act in this case, is sex by two consenting adult males in private.

Moral standards in society differs from person to person. Whats worst, in homosexuality, there has been no conclusion whether it is born or bred.

Hence, how can we judge if the act is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? Assuming that homosexuality is born, then does it mean that the person is then ‘born’ wrong? (Again a discussion for another time)

Some bring up regligious arguements, to condemn the act of homosexuality. This is particularly vocal in the Christian community. I respect the arguement, and it’s an individual faith that deserves that kind of respect.

However, different people belive and enroll themselves in different religions. One has to understand that thinkings differ from person to person. “One man’s meat, another man’s poison”. Such moral arguements are best governed by the religions that the individual belongs to and not by Statues or legislation. If any, for example, the vetican law should be sufficient, adequate and effective to govern the act for the Christians. (or it’s equivilant)

As a buddhist, I once had the priviledge of meeting an abbot of a temple in Singapore. Over a brief moment, I told him that I was praying for a gay friend of mine, who had contracted HIV. He told me that whilst other religions specifically condemns homosexuality, Buddhism has yet to do so. In fact, in the eyes of Buddha, all men are equal, regardless of who they are or what their sexual orientations are. He asked me to invite my friend to seek solace from the temple. I was deeply touched by the message.

The moral of the story is that, the level of acceptance for homosexuals differs from religion to religion. Its treatment and views towards homosexuality also differs, hence, IMHO there is no universal truth at the moment.

What’s moral and whats not, is best left to the moral indicators, found either in religions or other platforms. The platform should not be legislation.

Legislation paves the way for fairness, equality and justice. Discrimination should not be allowed, and in that light, repeal the S377A.

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