Moving Singapore forward with the repeal of 377A

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

AUG 28 — Singapore is about to repeal section 377A. This is extremely significant. Section 377A of Singapore’s penal code is perhaps Singapore’s most famous law.

It is probably the only statute widely known by its number; it is the section of the penal code that criminalises sex, even consensual sex between men.

Effectively 377A criminalises homosexuality. As it is broadly written to criminalise acts of "gross indecency" between men, it not only prohibits penetrative sex but just about any sexual act between men.

As acceptance of homosexuality gained ground worldwide — with most Western nations now affording gay couples the right to marry and adopt children — section 377A from a global perspective has seemed like an anachronism in our famously modern city state.

The law was introduced by the British who incorporated anti-homosexuality laws into the Indian penal code as long ago as 1838. These laws were subsequently introduced across Britain’s colonies including Singapore.

While the law is rarely enforced in independent Singapore and it officially ceased to be enforced in 2007, it remained part of the penal code.

That gay sex remained illegal was a clear indication of the state’s negative stance towards homosexuality.

The repeal of 377A has long been the cornerstone of gay rights campaigners in Singapore. Even without enforcement, they argued it stigmatised an entire community and created uncertainty and fear.

However, many Singaporeans maintained and continue to maintain a conservative attitude towards homosexuality. Opinion polls conducted as recently as 2018 found that the majority of Singaporeans were in favour of the continued prohibition of homosexuality.

Only very recent polls have shown that more people favour repealing 377A than upholding it. By finally striking the law from the statute books, the government does appear to be moving along with public opinion as sentiment is moving in the direction of more tolerance.

On pledging to repeal the law last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he hoped the move would “provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.”

Now to see what path Singapore charts for itself moving forward.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.