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Repealing 377A does not signal state’s hostility towards the family unit or religious freedom: Pritam Singh

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SINGAPORE: The repeal of Section 377A in the Penal Code “does not in any way signal the state’s hostility towards the family unit or religious freedom”, said Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh (WP-Aljunied) on his personal belief about the repeal on Monday (Nov 28). 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first announced at the National Day Rally in August, the Government’s intention to repeal Section 377A, a law that criminalises sex between men.

This was discussed at Monday’s debate in Parliament, along with another Bill to amend the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage from legal challenges. More than 30 MPs, Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) were scheduled to speak. 

Mr Singh, who was the first to speak, also stated that he had lifted the whip for the WP MPs, to allow those not in favour of the repeal of 377A to “vote freely”.  

“What the repeal of 377A certainly does not signal is Singapore becoming a more liberal or permissive society. What it does is make room in our shared public space, for members of our common Singaporean family to not be discriminated against due to their sexual orientation,” he said. 

“Religious Singaporeans are free to maintain their beliefs about homosexuality, but this should not interfere with what is legal in our public sphere. Likewise, supporters of repeal have no business interfering with the private beliefs of religious Singaporeans.” 

APPROACH ISSUE THROUGH “COMPROMISE AND ACCOMMODATION” 

Mr Singh acknowledged that in singling out homosexuality between men, in particular, keeping 377A “appears to the LGBTQ+ community and not a small number of Singaporeans to be unjust and unequal”.

However, repealing 377A will “no doubt cause anxiety, if not outrage, amongst Singaporeans who believe that our laws must also reflect cultural or religious attitudes towards homosexuality”, he added. 

“The reality of our political culture, which leans towards conservatism on social issues, is that such concerns cannot be summarily ignored or dismissed.” 

Mr Singh added that he sees the decision to protect marriage from constitutional challenge as an institution between men and women only, through a “very narrow lens” – it “represents a balancing exercise to ensure that society doesn’t fray over the decision to repeal 377A”. 

He hopes that Singaporeans who are against the repeal of 377A can approach the issue, despite their personal beliefs and religious convictions, through “the lens of compromise and accommodation”. 

“In repealing 377A, religious Singaporeans are not asked to endorse homosexuality, but to instead honour the equality of all Singaporeans in the eyes of the law, that no consenting adults should be regarded as criminals because of what they do in private,” added Mr Singh. 

“Equality and justice – both stars in our flag – are plenty and bountiful. Unlike finite resources, we do not have less of either by extending it to our fellow citizens. We all gain from a more just and equal society.”

WP ON 377A

Mr Singh noted that in 2019, he had stated his party’s position on 377A was similar to that of Singapore as a whole in a speech to the National University of Singapore Political Association. 

“It was varied and diverse, with no consensus as to whether 377A should be repealed,” he said. 

In that same speech, Mr Singh said the LGBTQ community “should not be exploited for political points”.

“At that time, I believed there was more to consider than deciding which was the ‘right’ side in this matter, particularly in a society which generally eschews hosting open and frank conversations on difficult matters in the public realm,” he said.

“Against this political culture and backdrop, the Workers’ Party neither took up the cause of LGBTQ+ rights, nor stood against it. I still believe that had the Workers’ Party openly supported a repeal of 377A, it would not have been good for Singapore politics. More crucially, it would not have served the interests of the LGBTQ+ community.”

On issues of “great social division and contending values”, we “do not need politicians to be seen as siding with particular groups”, added Mr Singh. 

At the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) conference on Nov 6, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had noted that the opposition is sometimes “missing in action” when spiky issues emerge such as the decision to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code.



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