Should Singapore repeal Section 377A?

In line with International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) – which is celebrated every 17 May, a group of activists are again sounding a call for the Singapore government to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code.

Section 377A states that any two consenting men who commit "gross indecency" shall be punished with imprisonment for up to two years.

Maruah, a local human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO), called on the government to immediately repeal the section as it is the “critical first step” towards eliminating discrimination against homosexuals.

A heated debate on the issue began in 2007, when then Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong filed a petition to repeal Section 377A, which he cited as discriminatory and a violation of constitutional safeguards on equal rights.

However, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee shot down the petition, highlighting that Singapore is a conservative society and “majority of [Singaporeans may] find homosexual behaviour offensive and unacceptable”.

“While homosexuals have a place in society… repealing Section 377A will be contentious and may send a wrong signal that the government is encouraging and endorsing the homosexual lifestyle as part of our mainstream way of life,” an AFP report quoted Ho as saying.

Section 377A a ‘moral dilemma’?

Five years have passed since the petition has been filed and yet Section 377A remains a point of controversy and contention.

Judging by responses from people Yahoo! Singapore spoke to as well as comments on our Facebook page, it seems that Singaporeans remain divided on this issue, with one Facebook user Matthew D Gre calling it a “moral dilemma”.

Some appear to be unwilling to support the call for change, such as 23-year-old Natasha Tan who said that although she does not discriminate against homosexuals, she feels that repealing the section may encourage increased lewd activities such as legalised gay prostitution.

On the other hand, 31-year-old Helda Ng insists that Section 377A should be repealed. “We can’t call ourselves a diverse nation if we are going to disapprove of diversity… [moreover], people can’t feel like they belong here if they’re going to be criminalized for being who they are,” she said.

Veron Otto, who commented on our Facebook page agreed with Ng as he asked: “Why should gays be considered criminals in the eyes of the law?... No government or individual should dictate who a person can or cannot love”.

Meanwhile, several other organisations besides Maruah have backed the call for the government to repeal Section 377A, with Pink Dot being the most public and stand-out movement advocating for a more inclusive society where “sexual orientation represents a feature, not a barrier”.