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Views on 377A: Government looking at how to safeguard current legal position on marriage, says Shanmugam

The Government has had extensive discussions with various people on 377A, including religious leaders and LGBT groups, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Government is looking at how it can safeguard the current legal position on marriage against challenges in the courts, while it considers the next steps for Section 377A of the Penal Code, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Saturday (Jul 30).

Mr Shanmugam was responding to media queries about updates on the Government’s efforts to seek views on the law, which criminalises sex between men. 

On Section 377A, authorities have had “extensive discussions” so far with different religious leaders, grassroots leaders, Singaporeans from all walks of life, as well as representatives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups, Mr Shanmugam told reporters on the sidelines of events at Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre.

“The general sense of the discussion is this – many agree that men who have sex with each other should not be thrown into prison. Gay sex should not be criminalised,” he said. "At the same time, most do not want any decriminalisation to cause other major changes.”

In particular, most people want the current position on marriage – which is defined by law as between a man and a woman – “to be retained”. 

“People don't want that to change and people also do not want any change to the current policies that take reference from this definition of marriage,” said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that the Government understands this view and is now considering how best to achieve a balance.

“The two questions we are dealing with are therefore: One, what is to be done with Section 377A. Two, at the same time, we are also considering how can we safeguard the current legal position on marriage from being challenged in the courts, so that it does not get challenged like the way Section 377A was in a series of cases,” the minister added.

“These matters really ought to be discussed in Parliament, and decided in Parliament, and not decided in the courts.”

Mr Shanmugam was also asked about Protect Singapore Townhall, a gathering that was held on Jul 23 calling for the protection of marriage, family and children in light of the Government considering a repeal of Section 377A.

The closed-door gathering was organised by Dads for Life and the Yellow Ribbon Project founder Jason Wong and SuChi Success Initiatives chief executive officer Mohamed Khair.

Police reports were made about the event but the authorities said no action will be taken against the organisers as the gathering did not break any laws.

In explaining the decision, Mr Shanmugam noted how the Pink Dot event was held last month.

“Likewise, the people who organise the Protect Singapore Townhall exercised their rights," he said, adding that the event did not break any laws.

But the minister stressed that authorities “will step in if there is any incitement and attacks or running down of any groups by either side".

"We can expect more of this as both sides seek to get heard, and these events really illustrate what the Government has been saying for a long time - that if one side pushes, then there will be a push back and we have seen this happen in many countries," he added.

"If it happens here in Singapore ... the ruptures will tear our social fabric apart (and) cause a lot of harm."

This is why the Government has been advocating moderation, moving carefully on this issue and "not push positions which can damage society", said Mr Shanmugam.

"People genuinely believe in one or another view with great intensity, and we have to try and deal with the issues with an open mind and open heart. Avoid extreme positions and avoid extreme demands," he added.

"Move forward, try and be united, work on our differences in a calm way, for the sake of Singapore."

Section 377A has stirred many debates and even legal challenges over the years.

On Feb 28 this year, the Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss three challenges to Section 377A.

Days later, Mr Shanmugam said in Parliament that the Government is considering the “best way forward” on the law, adding that it will respect different viewpoints and consider them carefully. 

Last month, the minister reiterated that while attitudes towards Section 377A are shifting, the Government cannot ignore the views of a “significant proportion” of the population who do not want the law repealed.

He stressed that even though the “old piece of law” makes gay sex an offence, the position in Singapore is that people engaging in it will not be prosecuted.

Source: CNA/yb(gs)


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