Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore is not ready for same-sex marriage as the society is still “basically a conservative one”.
This in response to a question posed to him by ABS-CBN News Channel journalist Antonio Velaquez, during the 7th ASEAN Journalists Visit Programme organised by the Communications and Information Ministry on Thursday. Antonio Velaquez asked for PM Lee’s views on gay marriage and whether Singapore is ready for it.
There is a trend in developed countries. In America, they have gay marriage. It is state by state. Not all states have agreed. In Europe, some countries have done it … but there was big considerable resistance,” said Mr Lee. “Even in America, there is a very strong pushback from conservative groups against the idea.”
Mr Lee said: “No, I do not think Singapore is ready … In Singapore, there is a range of views. There are gay groups in Singapore, there are gay people in Singapore and they have a place to stay here and we let them live their own lives. And we do not harass them or discriminate against them.”
He added: “But neither, I think, if you ask most Singaporeans, do we want the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community to set the tone for Singapore society. The society is basically a conservative one. It is changing, but it is changing gradually and there are different views, including views especially from the religious groups who push back … It is completely understandable.”
The Government’s view is that “where we are … is not a bad place to be”, Mr Lee said. “There is space for the gay community, but they should not push the agenda too hard because if they (do), there will be a very strong pushback,” he added.
“And this is not an issue where there is a possibility that the two sides can discuss and eventually come to a consensus. Now, these are very entrenched views and the more you discuss, the angrier people get.”
In 2007, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had also spoke in Parliament about homosexuality, he said the following on the Section 377a of the penal code*,
De facto, gays have a lot of space in Singapore. Gay groups hold public discussions. They publish websites. I have visited some of them. There are films and plays on gay themes. In fact, sometimes people ask, “Why are there so many? Aren’t there other subjects in the world?” But since we have allowed it in the last few years, maybe this is a letting off of pressure. Eventually, we will find a better balance.
There are gay bars and clubs. They exist. We know where they are. Everybody knows where they are. They do not have to go underground. We do not harass gays. The Government does not act as moral policemen. And we do not proactively enforce section 377A on them.
In response to TOC’s queries on PM Lee’s statement, Nicholas Lim, administrator of Gay SG Confessions said, “It is disappointing that PM Lee thinks that despite the existence of Section 377A in our Penal Code, there is no discrimination against the gay community in Singapore. Gay Singaporeans have no wish to change society’s way of living nor set any tone, merely be accepted as full citizens who live, work and play while paying taxes and fulfil their National Service obligations when called upon. Borrowing hostile terms like “pushing the agenda” to label the community sets the wrong tone for civil discourse and as a normal citizen, is disheartening to hear from the nation’s leader.”
“PM Lee misses the point. Gay marriage is not the yardstick for equality. Equality is being treated as full citizen rights in out everyday lives”, said Jean Chong, co-founder of lesbian activist group Sayoni.
*Section 377A of Penal Code
Section 377A (“Outrages on decency”) states that:
Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.
On 29 October 2014, the Court of Appeal rejected two separate Constitutional challenges to Section 377A of the Penal Code, the law that criminalises sex between men, maintaining that the law does not contravene Singapore’s Constitution.
Judges Andrew Phang, Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li, the three-judge in the Court of Appeal, rejected the two challenges that sought to strike down the law.
Both cases contended that the provision is discriminatory and should be declared void by the court, as it infringes their right to equal protection under the law, as guaranteed by Article 12 of the Constitution, and violates their right to life and liberty, as guaranteed by Article 9.
However, the court held that Section 377A did not violate Article 9 as the phrase “life and liberty” referred only to the personal liberty of a person from unlawful incarceration, not their right of privacy and personal autonomy.
The court also ruled that Section 377A fell outside the scope of Article 12, which forbids discrimination of citizens on grounds of religion, race and place of birth, but with no mention of “gender”, “sex” and “sexual orientation”, which related to Section 377A.