This is a letter written by one of our writers, Choo Zheng Xi, to the Straits Times forum page. The letter is published on May 1, 2007
I REFER to the letter from Ms Agnes Chai, 'Are homosexuals truly born gay?' (ST, April 27).
I think this question would be more accurately put to the proponents of Section 377: In the absence of any proof as to the nature of homosexuality, what justifies the potential imprisonment of homosexuals? Shouldn't those who want to keep it on the books instead be made to justify its continued existence?
Proponents of 377 claim that homosexuality is a question of choice, not nature. Hence, it is unnatural, and should therefore be criminalised.
Ms Chai's article cites the inconclusive results of recent studies surrounding the nature-nurture debate as reason to keep 377 on the books. If anything, these inconclusive results should be a strong warning against us making any assertions as to what is natural and what is not.
Even if we were to concede that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, this doesn't have a bearing one way or the other on the question of criminalisation. The autonomy to make lifestyle choices should be respected as a right in itself, so long as it does not infringe on the rights of another member of the public (or the public in general).
The late Herbert Hart, professor of jurisprudence at Oxford University, highlighted that clear harm to society should be proven before criminalising homosexuality because it involves the potential incarceration, and limits the actions, of individuals. Section 377's provision for life imprisonment is a sword of Damocles that is no less draconian for its infrequent use.
Decriminalising homosexuality in no way sends a signal of approval; what it does is affirm Parliament's respect for individuals as their own moral agents.
Granted, individual liberty can be understandably constrained to prevent harm to society. However, homosexuality harms no one, but its criminalisation casts a pall over a significant section of society. On balance, Section 377 should be abolished.
Choo Zheng Xi