Many Singaporeans have strong opinions on whether Section 377A of the Penal Code should be repealed, including significant minorities holding opposing views.
Speaking to Bloomberg on Monday (15 Aug), Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong said discussions about the law also surround broader issues like Singapore’s societal values.
This is why, Mr Wong said, the government is considering how to move forward without causing deeper divisions in our society.
But he assured the government will address the matter in due course.
During an interview with Mr Wong on Monday (15 Aug), Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait did not mince his opinion about Section 377A with a hard-hitting question, “When is that rule going to go?”.
Mr Wong replied that it is a matter for Singapore and Singaporeans to decide.
He elaborated that it is an issue that has to be dealt with sensitively because it pertains to our social values and norms.
When it comes to addressing such issues, where different segments of society hold deep and sometimes opposing views, the government engages different groups.
From there, they hope to work out some common understanding — a mutual compromise that does not cause deeper divisions in society.
This is what the government is currently doing, said Mr Wong.
With a chuckle, interviewer Mr Micklethwait exclaimed that Mr Wong is a “modern man”, having studied abroad.
He remarked that when trying to bring people into Singapore, it must be “embarrassing” for Mr Wong, having a law like 377A.
To that, Mr Wong said 377A is a legacy left by the British. Over the years, many Asian countries that share that legacy have since repealed it.
However, in Singapore, some segments of society feel that 377A is not just about the law, per se.
Rather, the law is a marker for things they care about such as societal values. This includes values about family and marriage.
This is why it is important for the government to consider how best to move forward to not cause deeper divisions in society.
When asked if Mr Wong personally was in favour of the law being repealed and thinks Singapore needs to be mobilised into doing so, the DPM responded that it “is a live issue”.
After all, the government is still engaging different parties on the matter.
Mr Micklethwait pointed out that one of the challenges when it comes to foreign companies or companies trying to hire people into Singapore is obtaining visas for same-sex spouses.
For affected individuals, this means their legal spouse – or at least what most of the world acknowledges as their spouse – cannot come to Singapore under the same visa.
Mr Micklethwait said this is an area where Hong Kong is more progressive than Singapore.
Acknowledging this, Mr Wong said they have dealt with some partner difficulties on a case-by-case basis.
However, he reiterated that the broader issue is not about 377A but how Singapore organises itself as a society.
This includes if Singapore should change values around family and marriage, which a larger segment of Singaporeans are concerned about.
While views on the law and criminalisation of homosexuality have evolved, people feel strongly about family values and marriage.
He emphasised that these two views are different.
This is why Singapore has to engage people and find how best to move forward.
Section 377A has not been actively enforced in Singapore for over a decade. Nonetheless, its existence is a strong signifier of certain values that parts of the community would like to preserve.
We’re glad that the government is actively working on the matter and finding ways for Singapore to progress forward.
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