Section 377A: Parliament introduces Bill to repeal divisive law

A Bill to repeal S377A is tabled in Parliament. (PHOTOS: Reuters/Yahoo News Singapore)
A Bill to repeal S377A is tabled in Parliament. (PHOTOS: Reuters/Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — A Bill to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, was tabled in Parliament on Thursday (20 October), paving the way to strike off the colonial-era law.

Another Bill to amend the Constitution of Singapore to protect the existing definition of marriage - that of being between a man and a woman - was also introduced. This Bill seeks to prevent the current definition - and government policies made on that basis - from being challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds.

Both Bills are set to be debated together when the Parliament sits on 28 November.

Attitudes towards homosexuality have shifted: PM Lee

The introductions of the two Bills comes as expected after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced during this year's National Day Rally that Singapore will repeal the deeply divisive S377A, as attitudes towards homosexuality have shifted appreciably.

“Most people accept that a person’s sexual orientation and behaviour is a private and personal matter, and that sex between men should not be a criminal offence,” he had said in the rally.

The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, tabled by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, also comes after a recent Court of Appeal decision pointed to significant risk of S377A being struck down by the Courts in a future challenge to declare the law unconstitutional, on the grounds that it breaches Article 12 of the Constitution, the equal protection provision.

Protecting definition of marriage

The constitutional amendment, tabled by Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, will introduce a new Article 156 (Institution of Marriage) clause to the Constitution.

It states that the Parliament can define the institution of marriage, and make pro-family laws on the basis of that definition.

The amendment also protects existing laws that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and states that such laws and policies cannot be found unconstitutional by the courts on the grounds that they contravene the fundamental liberties set out in the Constitution.

Should the amendment pass, any change to the heterosexual definition of marriage - as well as laws made on that basis - can only happen through Parliament and not through the courts.

PM Lee said in his National Day Rally that the amendment will be in tandem with the "controlled, carefully considered way" to repeal S377A.

Bills will vote on separately

The two Bills will be voted on separately. This is because repealing a law requires a simple majority of MPs, while any amendment to the Constitution has to be supported by at least two-thirds of MPs, excluding Nominated MPs.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong had previously said that the People’s Action Party will not be lifting the whip when Parliament votes to repeal S377A. This means MPs will have to vote according to the party’s position.

This followed calls by some quarters for the party whip to be lifted so that MPs can vote freely according to their conscience.

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