Section 377A: Singapore repeals divisive law, endorses protection of marriage definition
SINGAPORE — The Singapore Parliament voted on Tuesday (29 November) to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, a colonial-era law which criminalises gay sex between men.
It also voted to endorse amendments to the Constitution to protect the current definition of marriage from legal challenge.
The repeal of 377A saw 93 Members of Parliament voting in favour of the move. Workers' Party MPs Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) and Dennis Tan (Hougang), as well as Nominated MP Hoon Hian Teck, voted against the repeal.
The constitutional amendment saw 85 MPs vote in favour. Progress Singapore Party's Non-Constituency MPs Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa voted against the amendment, while WP's Sylvia Lim and He Ting Ru abstained. Nominated MPs are not allowed to vote on constitutional amendments.
Background on the law repeal and Constitution amendment
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced during this year's National Day Rally that Singapore will repeal the deeply divisive S377A, as attitudes towards homosexuality have shifted appreciably.
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.
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.
Ministers address concerns of MPs
During the two-day debate on the repeal and Constitution amendment, several MPs had raised concerns about the repeal leading to cancel culture. Mr Shanmugam said that his ministry is looking at measures to deal with the harm caused by cancel campaigns online.
The minister questioned WP’s decision to lift the whip on its members, meaning that the party members need not vote as a bloc. Mr Shanmugam said this meant that, as a party, WP had no official position on the repeal and also did not support the constitution amendments to protect marriage.
“The Whip does not, and has not, prevented MPs from speaking their minds. MPs have always been free to express what they, their constituents think. The Whip is relevant for voting, not speaking, and the Whip sets out the Party’s position,” he said.
In response, WP chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh said that with the party's MPs indicating their positions - six for repeal, and three against due to reasons of religion and conscience - the party position has now been established by way of a majority in Parliament.
Mr Masagos also addressed concerns on religious freedom, sex education in schools and support for LGBT students.
He said it is the intention of the government that there should not be a change in social norms following the repeal, and that education policies and curriculum remain anchored on Singapore’s prevailing family values and social norms.
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