AWARE disappointed at The Straits Times' publishing of op-ed against repeal of 377A

An op-ed, titled 'Section 377A: Putting children first', was penned by the organisers behind the Protect Singapore Townhall event. (PHOTOS: AWARE Singapore/Facebook, Reuters)
An op-ed, titled 'Section 377A: Putting children first', was penned by the organisers behind the Protect Singapore Townhall event. (PHOTOS: AWARE Singapore/Facebook, Reuters)

SINGAPORE — The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) on Friday (5 August) criticised national broadsheet The Straits Times' "disappointing" decision to publish a "poorly cited" opinion-editorial written by organisers of an event that called for the retention of Section 377A – a law that criminalises gay sex.

The op-ed, titled "Section 377A: Putting children first" and published on Wednesday, was penned by Dads for Life and the Yellow Ribbon Project founder Jason Wong and SuChi Success Initiatives chief executive officer Mohamed Khair, both of whom had organised the Protect Singapore Townhall event on 23 July.

AWARE had previously expressed concerns about the closed-door event, which was held "to protect family, marriage, our freedom of conscience, and most importantly our children, who are at the heart of these social institutions".

Police reports were made about the gathering of some 1,200 attendees, with authorities later saying that no action will be taken against Wong and Khair as the event was legal.

'Spurious and hurtful claims' in published op-ed

In its Facebook post, AWARE wrote that the op-ed published on "Singapore’s paper of record" had contained "spurious and hurtful claims" that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community activism is anti-family.

The non-profit gender equality organisation added that the article echoed "the same old fear-mongering 'but what about the children?' talking points devised and exported by the American far-right in their efforts to oppose LGBTQ equality".

In the op-ed, Wong and Khair argued that it would be very unwise for Singapore's government to repeal Section 377A, "until and unless there are robust safeguards in place, especially for the sake of our children".

"At the level of state-wide policies, if the traditional family unit is weakened, society will be weakened as well, with implications for social policy, welfare spending and criminal justice," the duo wrote.

"Given that half of a child's DNA comes from the father, and the other half comes from the mother, to say that two fathers or two mothers make no difference to the child is to put adults' desires before the needs and rights of the child."

While such arguments have been parroted for a long time even in Singapore, they have seldom received a platform of this scale, without comment or context, in a national broadsheet, AWARE noted in its Facebook post.

"We understand that publication in an Opinion section does not equate to endorsement. Yet the airing of misinformation, even without overt endorsement, inadvertently legitimises it, gives it credibility and expands its reach," it added.

Published above article by former NMP

AWARE pointed out that the op-ed was published just above another, titled "Why more needs to be done to help LGBTQ youth", written by former Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong and Dr Rayner Tan, visiting research fellow at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at National University of Singapore (NUS) and vice president of the Society of Behavioural Health Singapore.

The op-ed by Ong and Dr Tan had cited several studies, including those conducted by the NUS Social Service Research Centre and US-based The Trevor Project, which on its website described itself as the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organisation for LGBTQ youths.

"(The newspaper) layout seems to convey the idea of 'balance', of 'being fair to both sides', sending a visual message that both sets of opinions are of equal validity. But that is not true. One piece is based on reason, evidence, and the fundamentals of human rights; the other is a – poorly cited – attempt to continue a long history of oppression," AWARE wrote.

"Views that are not only unsound but cause documented harm to others should not be given serious attention."

AWARE's Facebook post was subsequently shared by LGBTQ rights group Oogachaga and Singapore Advocacy Awards on their respective pages.

Singapore considering repeal of Section 377A

AWARE's comments come less than a week after Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that the Singapore government is looking at how it can safeguard the current legal position on marriage against challenges in the courts, while it considers whether to repeal Section 377A.

The legislation criminalises homosexual sex between men here but is not proactively enforced. The courts have also consistently taken the position that social issues related to Section 377A are within the province of Parliament. On 28 February, the Court of Appeal dismissed three legal challenges against Section 377A.

Shanmugam told reporters that the government has had extensive discussions with religious and grassroots leaders, Singaporeans from all walks of life, as well as representatives of the LGBTQ groups on Section 377A.

While many Singaporeans agree that sex between men should not be a crime, they do not want the current position of marriage between a man and a woman to be changed, the minister had noted.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore a day after his remarks released a statement calling on the LGBTQ community to "respect our rights to maintain our position on marriage and that the family unit comprises a father, mother, and their children".

In March, Shanmugam had spoken about Section 377A in Parliament and said that Singapore's policies need to evolve to keep abreast of the gradual shift in society's attitudes towards homosexuality and that the government is considering the best way forward.

Survey findings released by market research firm Ipsos in June found that the proportion of citizens and permanent residents who support Section 377A has fallen over the past four years, from 55 per cent in 2018 to 44 per cent in 2022.

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