Pritam Singh Lifts Party Whip In 377A Debate, Hopes Varied Views Will Represent Singaporeans
Back in August, PM Lee made the announcement that Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men, will be repealed.
Speaking during the 377A parliamentary debate on Monday (28 Nov), Leader of Opposition (LO) and Workers’ Party Chief Pritam Singh revealed that he will be lifting the party whip for Workers’ Party (WP) on the issue.
This is to allow MPs who are not in favour of the repeal to vote freely.
Mr Singh said he hopes the views of Singaporeans, including those who see the issue as a matter of deep religious belief and conscience, will be represented.
Pritam Singh lifts WP party whip
On Monday (28 Nov), Mr Singh said he will be lifting the party whip for WP MPs on the repeal of Section 377A. He explained that ordinarily, he would not do so.
However, 377A is a unique issue. For many in Singapore, it is conceived through a religious lens and is a matter of conscience.
He cited examples of WP MPs themselves having differing views on the repeal.
While Mr Faisal Manap disagrees with the repeal, Mr Louis Chua agrees with it. Both MPs were not present in the debate due to Covid-19.
Earlier, the People’s Action Party (PAP) announced they will not be lifting the whip for the debate. Mr Singh feared that this would dilute the democratic value of Parliament.
He hopes by lifting the whip, WP MPs not in favour of the repeal can “vote freely” on the issue.
In doing so, they will better represent Singaporeans who see the issue as a matter of “deep religious belief and conscience”.
But the challenge he posed for those who will be speaking in the debate was to envision how society as a whole, with its differing views, can move forward.
Repeal does not signal hostility towards family unit
“From my vantage point as the Leader of the Opposition, my personal belief is that the repeal of 377A does not in any way signal the State’s hostility towards the family unit or religious freedom,” Mr Singh said.
He emphasised that the repeal does not signal Singapore is becoming a more liberal or permissive society.
Instead, it makes room in the shared public space for Singaporeans not to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation.
In any secular society, sin and crime are separate categories.
While these categories sometimes align, others do not.
Singling out homosexuality between men and keeping 377A “appears to the LGBTQ+ community and not a small number of Singaporeans to be unjust and unequal”.
Nonetheless, Mr Singh acknowledged that the repeal will cause anxiety, if not outrage, amongst those who believe laws must reflect cultural or religious attitudes towards homosexuality.
The reality of Singapore’s political culture that leans towards conservatism is that such concerns cannot be dismissed.
Mr Singh expressed that he sees the decision to protect marriage from constitutional challenges as a balancing act.
His hope is that Singaporeans who are against the repeal will approach the issue, in spite of personal beliefs, through compromise and accommodation.
The repeal does not ask Singaporeans to endorse homosexuality but rather to honour the equality of all Singaporeans in the eyes of the law.
“Equality and justice – both stars in our flag – are plenty and bountiful. Unlike finite resources, we do not have less of either by extending it to our fellow citizens.”, said Mr Singh.
After all, we all gain from a more just and equal society, he concluded.
Secular approach to governance
Looking ahead, Mr Singh asked that Singaporeans recognise the distinction between public and private perspectives.
In Singapore, there must be a place for everyone. The public space is a shared one and a give-and-take attitude is encouraged.
And as a secular society, religious Singaporeans are not stopped from holding their views or wishing to propagate them.
However, this is provided that their views are not set as an expectation for all of society.
Mr Singh reiterated, “There must be a secular approach to politics and governance even as we celebrate and protect the freedom of religion.”
Most importantly, Mr Singh urged Singaporeans to be thoughtful by putting themselves in others’ shoes as they debate difficult issues.
Shanmugam says repealing 377A is ‘right thing to do’
Earlier during the parliamentary debate, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said repealing 377A is the right thing to do.
Consensual sex between adult men does not raise concerns about law and order and should not be viewed as a criminal issue, he said.
Furthermore, he shared that there is a “clear risk” of the law being struck down in the courts.
If this is allowed to happen, he said MPs would be avoiding their duty. The result could be worse for Singaporeans.
Beyond that, 377A humiliates and hurts gay people. People who just want to live peacefully and be accepted as part of society.
Mr Shanmugam went on to add that even if 377A is not enforced, it is a daily reminder that every time they engage in sexual activity behind closed doors, they are a criminal.
He asked, “Is it fair that gays have to live in this way?”
It is not a situation Singaporeans should accept, even if they do not agree with homosexuality.
Because of this, Mr Shanmugam said the law should be repealed.
Over 30 MPs are expected to voice their views on the debate on the repeal on 28 Nov.
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Featured image adapted from MCI Singapore on YouTube.