MARUAH Calls for Repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code

As a human rights organisation, MARUAH is disconcerted by the Government’s position not to take steps at this time to repeal section 377A of the Penal Code. We find this decision bewildering, disappointing and disturbing, for the reasons that follow.

  • Section 377A Entrenches and Promotes Discrimination against the LGBTQ Community

Section 377A of the Penal Code states: “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.”

As the italicized words above indicate, the controversial aspect of the provision is that it criminalizes sexual activity between men even if such activity occurs in private.

In a statement to the media, the Law and Home Affairs Minister, Mr K Shanmugam, said that the issue of whether section 377A should be repealed is one “closely related to social value systems”. We agree, in that section 377A appears to be based solely on subjective opinions about the morality of the criminalized conduct in question.

We take the view that it is inappropriate for conduct that causes no harm (compared to, say, homicide and sexual assault) to be a criminal offence merely because a segment of society feels subjectively that it is immoral. It is discriminatory for sexual conduct between men to remain a crime when other conduct that some might also regard as immoral – such as sexual conduct between women, sexual conduct between women and men outside marriage, or gambling – is not similarly criminalized. People are free to try to persuade others of their moral viewpoints, but it is unjust that they should be able to plead the criminal law in support of their cause.

While the Government has affirmed that it “does not and will not enforce 377A”, the fact remains that the presence of section 377A in the statute book continues to marginalize LGBTQ people, causing them to be regarded as less than full members of society, and often feeling that they must hide who they are because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

MARUAH believes that by repealing section 377A, the Government will help to end discrimination against LGBTQ people. This will contribute positively towards stopping hate speech directed towards, and vilification of, the LGBTQ community, and encourage dialogue amongst communities to promote greater understanding and inclusivity. MARUAH hopes that the Government will act courageously to have section 377A repealed by the Parliament, and thereby help to build bridges between communities.

  • Matters that Profoundly Affect People’s Human Rights Cannot be Decided by Poll

The Minister for Law and Home Affairs commented that when the Executive and Legislature decide whether legislation should be amended or repealed, “depending on the legislation, public opinion can be relevant”. He also noted: “The majority are opposed to any change to section 377A, they are opposed to removing it.”

MARUAH is concerned that this suggests the Government will rely largely on polls, such as the one conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs in July and August 2018, to determine its policy towards section 377A.

Assuming that polls of this nature accurately capture public opinion on the issue, where a law like section 377A profoundly affects the lives and human rights of LGBTQ people, pointing to a poll to rationalize that a majority in society is not ready to accept a change in the law is unacceptable.

Moreover, negative attitudes towards LGBTQ people can hardly be expected to change when various Government policies make it very difficult for misconceptions about them to be dispelled. These policies include the prohibition of films and television programmes that “promote or justify a homosexual lifestyle”, the requirements that schools teach students “the current legal provisions concerning homosexual acts in Singapore” (that is, section 377A) and that teachers and external trainers approved by the Ministry of Education ensure “that schools are not used as arenas for advocacy on controversial issues”, and the refusal of the authorities to register LGBTQ advocacy and support groups as companies or societies.

  • Repealing Section 377A would Help to Ensure a Secular Common Space

It is evident that many calls for the retention of section 377A are motivated by genuine religious belief. However, the Government has consistently held that Singapore is a secular nation, and that a secular common space must be maintained for all. For instance, in a 2010 speech, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said that “because we are a multi-religious society, we must ensure that we have secular common space where Singaporeans can feel comfortable whatever their beliefs. […] By keeping religion out of the public square, we make it safe for everyone to congregate. This creates opportunities for interaction, mutual understanding and accommodation.”

Article 15 of the Constitution guarantees to all the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religious beliefs. Thus, members of faith groups have a right to their own views on gender identity and sexual orientation issues. However, this right should not be exercised in a way that infringes on the human rights of others, and denies the rightful equal status before the law that every person ought to be enjoy. MARUAH is of the view that repealing section 377A will affirm and uphold the secular common space in society.

The decision to hold on to an archaic law like section 377A is outstandingly backward. The reasons for that decision give scant respect to what every person in Singapore should be able to rightfully claim – to be treated equally and have an equal status in society. It is clear that Singapore is behind the times on this crucial matter. MARUAH therefore urges the Government to act now to repeal section 377A.

Braema Mathi

President

MARUAH Singapore

[email protected]

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About MARUAH Singapore

MARUAH is a human-rights NGO based in Singapore.

“Maruah” means “dignity” in Malay, Singapore’s national language. Human rights is fundamentally about maintaining, restoring and reclaiming one’s dignity, and MARUAH strives to achieve this by working on national and regional human rights issues.

MARUAH is also the Singapore focal point of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, which is officially recognised in the ASEAN Charter as an entity associated with ASEAN.

More information on MARUAH at www.maruah.org

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16 Responses to “MARUAH Calls for Repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code”

  • HarderTruths:

    MARUAH another pappy creation.

    ‘The fact remains that the presence of section 377A in the statute book continues to marginalize LGBTQ people, causing them to be regarded as less than full members of society, and often feeling that they must hide who they are because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.’

    What fact are you talking about? This is just your pinion based on pappy politics.

    LGBT were never marginalised – they were in my school / workplaces / social events and treated like any other person.

    It is the pappies who are exploiting the LGBT card for some reason.
    377A is just a smokescreen for something more sinister.

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  • Boh Kia See:

    The presence of Sec 377A does not inhibit sex nor does the absence of the section promote gay sex.

    So the Sec377A is really that has very little to do with one’s sexuality. Only the expression of it.

    Religious people like to control others and make others conform to their own image or thinking. Therefore their stand on this issue is like a rock that cannot be moved.

    In reality, those who believe that gay sex is abhorrent and against their religious belief must know that they are not forced to practice gay sex when Sec 377A does not exist. Your belief and your conduct is a personal matter. If you think that shopping on Sunday is against your religious belief then don’t shop on Sundays. Whether there is a law against shopping on Sunday or not. It does not mean you should stop others from shopping on Sunday.

    Religious beliefs are just that. You need to believe to be saved. So in my example, if you stop people from shopping on Sunday–will not save them because they do not believe but simply complying with man-made laws.

    So for people with strong religious beliefs against gay sex–the first step is to convert the people. When they are converted, they will not practice gay sex, regardless of whether Sec 377A exists or not.

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  • oxygen:

    MORALITY CANNOT BE LEGISLATED – law is law and law is NOT necessarily moral in application especially in dictatorships.

    Section 377a is archaic, its logical place is the museum of legal history at best or better still than that, in the dustbin.

    BE TOLERANT OF THOSE WHO ARE DIFFERENT FROM US.

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  • Stop asking:

    Only those with no maruah will ask for a repeal.

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  • patriot of Temesak:

    Yes REPEAL 377a…whereby GrownUps can pick their lifestyle according to their wish…even the Bible @ Sodom and Gomorrah had men wanting to sodomise Angels appearing as Men

    AND…REPEAL the Evil act of LEEgal Abortion where One Million UNBORN circa 1974-2016 was KILLED by having their little life DRAG OUT and skull smashed to accommodate the forceps for easy DRAGGING…how evil can it be??? only an Evil mind and heart will approve such an ACT with Glee…

    TODAY we have to open our doors to supposedly FT of Dubois qualification to replace the MURDERED unborn INNOCENT LIVES…may their souls rest in peace and Haunt the man who GLEEFULLY approved it… ie The man who Con You!!!

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  • LIONS:

    The LAW shud seek to protect all citizens n other residents/visitors.
    But,does REPEALING THIS SECTION help in the COMMON GOOD?
    I truly have my doubts.
    We shud understand the basic needs of others which may differ from the common traits but to allow for sexual deviances OPENLY is simply not in the COMMON ORDER.
    Let those who want SAME SEX go ahead to do what they prefer doing in their OWN SPACE insolong as they do not disturb the proper order of things.
    Frankly,if i were a kid,i dont want to have to call a man *mama*,do you?

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  • LIONS:

    And oh,btw,i hope the PINK DOT can join us at HLP to ask for the REPEAL OF GRC?

    Well…they dont seem to care?

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  • section 777 with morality:

    //Only those with no maruah will ask for a repeal.//

    aiyoh. after repeal ? it will slowly quieten down lar when people get used to it lar.

    and after a long while (perhaps many many years down the road), there will be no longer association of section 777 with morality liao lar.

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  • LIONS:

    This REPEAL call from even PROF TOMMY KOH smells fishy.
    So the REPEAL will BUY MORE VOTES next GE?
    PINKY MUST BE ELATED as he expect even more PINK VOTES FOR him.

    Next,WHY NOT REPEAL DEATH SENTENCE?
    Its even more meaningful?
    Will TOMMY KOH use his expertise here?

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  • Shame or Dignity:

    IF A PERSON HAS NO SHAME, WHERE COMETH DIGNITY?

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  • a harmful epidemic:

    //The LAW shud seek to protect all citizens n other residents/visitors.
    But,does REPEALING THIS SECTION help in the COMMON GOOD?//

    aiyoh. repeal is a matter of time lar. got tua-liap-hoot support leh maybe got tua-liap-hoot family member like that one.

    when the pain hit one personally or one’s family member, then can understand better what “protection” is all about lar.

    common good ? tok as though it is a harmful epidemic that is going to spread to everyone – or some unwanted force being imposed on people who do not wish to be disturbed.

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  • nihon:

    why is maruah a big kaypoh?

    just fight for our cpf n stop the unqualified ftrash from stealing jobs, healthcare, education n public housing etc. ,ake s/e pass holders pay cpf.

    this is OUR human rights.

    if the lgbts want to poke each other, they can go and die.

    BUT we want our kids to be normal n pls don’t give me the crap – ‘what’s wrong with love?’ its NOT love.

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  • Tatman:

    Repeal of GRC and CPF, these LGBTs are hypocrites and they won’t bother at all.

    LIONS:
    And oh,btw,i hope the PINK DOT can join us at HLP to ask for the REPEAL OF GRC?

    Well…they dont seem to care?

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  • PoPCornPls:

    If they don’t repeal the law, despite clear signs of abuse and infringement on human rights, then you know religious leaders, and their religious flocks, want to continue in their Sinful ways.

    Take this as a sign( no change) and let consequences follow. No further light as they want to live in the darkness of their souls.Let the blood be on their heads and hands.

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  • All are hetero:

    Love is love.
    Sex is sex.
    Love is not sex.
    Just be close friend but don’t engage in homo sex.
    Then you won’t be pro-homo.

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  • A big deception:

    In many Western countries, ppl who like homo sex deceive the majority of their ppl, courts and medical professionals to accept homo. Now the same trend has come to Sg. But they won’t succeed.

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