9
Oct

Repeal s377A

I’d think of something funny to write about anything, but this isn’t one of the times that warrants any nonsense. I cut and paste for you an open letter to the Prime Minister which I hope you will read, then click on the link to the repeal377a.com site, and then add your name to the list. I also hope you put your real name, occupation and constituency, just to give it a bit more weight.

Why repeal s377A? I reckon, at least, for the same reasons the other provisions of s377 were repealed – such as the provision for ‘marital immunity‘, for when a husband rapes a wife. Repugnant, no?

I urge you, go to the site, sign the letter. Else we risk being citizens of the most irrelevant backwater, and a really small one at that.

Thank you.

The Prime Minister
Mr. Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister’s Office
Orchard Road
Istana
Singapore 238823

Subject: Abolition OF Section 377A, Penal Code

Dear Prime Minister,

As a citizen of Singapore, I write to appeal to your sense of fairness and equality, to take the lead to move Parliament and your party on issues related to s377A, Penal Code. I strongly believe that it should be repealed, not just for the benefit of the gay community, but also for the good of all Singaporeans. I also firmly believe that the time to repeal s377A, Penal Code is now, not later.

The reasons why this repeal is so important are manifold.

1. Singapore’s Founding Principles.
2. Constitutional and Legal Rights.
3. International Social Mores and Trends.
4. Domestic Social Mores and Trends.
5. Damage to the Gay Community.
6. Pragmatism, Leadership and the Future.

1. Singapore’s Founding Principles
Singapore was founded on the basis of justice and equality. This is reflected in our pledge. From the start, Singapore as a nation has staunchly upheld multiculturalism, with diverse groups living together in harmony by respecting each other’s differences. This has been the cornerstone of our country’s success. Since then, these principles have been further strengthened. For example:

– In 1966, a Constitutional Commission was formed to study how the rights of minorities can be safeguarded.
– The implementation of the GRC in our electoral system ensures that racial minorities are adequately represented.
– The Women’s Charter was amended to safeguard women’s rights.

Legislating that certain sexual acts are legal for heterosexuals but illegal for gay men is tantamount to our country taking an active step (for the first time) to discriminate against a minority group. That goes against everything we, as Singaporeans, have been taught to believe in and hold dear.

2. Constitutional and Legal Rights
Section 377A contravenes Singapore’s Constitution which grants equal rights to treatment and protection for everyone. This law is unequivocally discriminatory. We believe a gay man should have exactly the same rights as a straight man or woman.

We understand that there are elements of our society that do not see being gay in a positive light. They are entitled to their opinion. But their opinion should not infringe upon the rights of this – or any – group of Singaporeans. This holds true even if those who disapprove of gay people outnumber those who support them. In fact, it is the responsibility of any democratically elected government to protect minorities from the “tyranny of the majority”.

Section 377A violates an individuals’s right to privacy. Especially since what we are talking about is a choice between consenting adults and hurts no one.

Furthermore, the government’s self-avowed compromise of having s377A on the books but not enforcing it will bring Singapore’s justice system into disrepute. The Council of the Law Society states in its report to the Ministry Of Home Affairs dated March 30, 2007, that the law as it stands “cannot be justified”. The Council goes further to argue that the proper function of criminal law “is to protect others from harm by punishing harmful conduct. Private consensual homosexual conduct between adults does not cause harm recognisable by the criminal law. Thus, regardless of one’s personal view of the morality or otherwise of such conduct, it should not be made a criminal offence”.

Singapore has always taken pride in being a country where the rule of law is transparent, fair and clear cut. This reputation has served us well and contributed in no small way to our country’s success and should not be eroded by this aberration.

3. International Trends
The courts of many major countries have held the equivalent of s377A to be discriminatory, an invasion of privacy and unconstitutional. This is not only in Europe and America. It includes the UN Human Rights Committee, S, Africa and most recently Hong Kong. The legislatures in UK, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and even China have also passed laws decriminalising such acts.

Singapore will be woefully out-of-step with the rest of the world should it move to retain this Victorian legislation only weeks after Newsweek magazine’s cover story proclaimed that “the battle for gay rights is gaining ground across the globe” and hailed the repeal of laws similar to s377A across the globe as “a global civil-rights revolution”.

4. Domestic Trends
The attitude of Singaporeans have become much more accepting of alternative sexuality. Between 2000 and 2005, the level of acceptance has changed from 10% to more than 30%. The latest figure is taken from Mark Cenite and B. Detenber’s article in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research. Furthermore, the Straits Times online census in July 2007 indicated a tolerance level of 55%.

Admittedly, different public polls can often illustrate contrasting views and the sum of all these statistics makes it difficult to get a clear view of popular sentiment. However we believe that the law of our land does not exist to be popular, but to be fair and just for all people. This is a belief we know is shared by many.

5. Damage to the Gay Community

If the current amendment bill succeeds, the resulting law will become a bitter symbol to many gay Singaporean men, young and old. It will hinder greater understanding and integration of these people, who are often responsible, invaluable and highly respected contributing members of society. The only thing that makes these people different from the majority of Singaporeans is that they are biologically-pre-disposed to love differently. It will be a slap in the face to their significant contributions and encourage many more to leave our shores for more open-minded societies. Singapore’s most valuable resource is its citizens. We cannot afford to lose them.

S377A will also affect the status and moral citizenship of gay men in society. The government has openly welcomed gays and lesbians into the civil service. But this law will only discourage equal-treatment for gay employees everywhere and diminish the moral standing these men and have rightfully earned. We fear it will be a seed for further acts of discrimination.

Criminalising gay sex also impedes effective safer-sex messages being disseminated effectively to gay men and other men at risk of contracting HIV. There are numerous studies which have concluded that HIV prevention programs in environments where gay sex is criminalised are resoundingly ineffective. The fight against HIV/AIDS is an important issue which affects all Singaporeans. There should be no impediment to getting this life saving information out.

Branding gays as outlaws will be destructive to the self-worth of those individuals and could lead to an increased incidence of self-harm. Thought should also be given to gay youth who struggle deeply with this issue. This law would only add more trauma to what is already a very difficult period in their lives.

6. Pragmatism, Leadership and the Future
You and our government have always shown a willingness to make tough pragmatic decisions for the best interests of our country. Decisions made with conviction, despite opposition from various interest groups, religious organisations and minorities.

In a recent address at NUS, you talked about this issue and said that “we will not reach consensus however much we discuss it. The views are passionately held on both sides. The more you discuss it, the angrier they become. The subject will not go away.” Having admitted that we are at an impasse, it seems only logical that the way to move forward is for the government to take a lead with the same conviction and leadership it has always shown.

We keep hearing that Singapore society is ‘too conservative’ for this law to be repealed. This is not a strong enough reason to deny a group of Singaporeans equal rights. Far more conservative countries have done away with laws like these and are none the worse for it. We are a modern, democratic and secular state. While there will always be a place for conservative mores, we also need to protect and nurture space for tolerance and open-mindedness to flourish.

You have often said that your goal is to create a tolerant and progressive society for all Singaporeans. We urge you to now demonstrate your commitment to achieve this goal. Repealing this biased law will be a symbolic milestone to signal to fellow Singaporeans and the world that this is the vision of Singapore that we all share.

Yours faithfully,

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