PM Lee maintains stance on 377a from 2007 speech in Parliament

BBC HARDtalk featured a trailer of an interview with Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, a short exchange between Stephen Sackur and PM Lee regarding his views on the archaic 377a legislation left over by the British colonial empire.

The BBC HARDtalk is a current affairs program by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that features a 30-minute one-on-one interview. The interviewee is subjected to about 30 minutes of tough questioning by the host.

In the trailer, Sackur asks the Prime Minister, “I don’t want to sound rude in any way but if any of your children or grandchildren were gay, would that change your perspective?”

“Would you then think it were unacceptable for consenting adults to be criminalised in this way?” asked the BBC interviewer.

PM Lee paused to compose himself before replying, “I think that it is a law which is there. If I remove it, I will not remove the problem.”

He added, “Because if you look at what has happened in the west. In Britain, you decriminalised in 1960s. Your attitude has changed a long way but even now, gay marriage is contentious. In America, it is very contentious. Even in France, in Paris, they have had demonstrations in the streets against gay marriage”

Sackur quickly followed up with a question, “But what is your personal view? Would you like, all things being equal, to get rid of 377A?”

For those who are unaware, 377a is a piece of legislation which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men.

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. – 377a of the penal code

In the last part of the trailer, PM Lee replied, “My personal view is that if I don’t have a problem this is an uneasy compromise. I am prepared to live with it until social attitudes change.”

The full episode of the interview can be viewed on StarHub TV Ch 701 tomorrow at 12.30pm, 5.30pm and 11.30pm.

PM Lee’s 2007 arguments on 377a

Back in 2007, there was a debate on the 377a and how it was unconstitutional to discriminate one based on sexual orientation.

PM Lee in his address on the matter to the Parliament also pointed out that gay rights and same-sex marriage is a contentious issue even in the west, Stating that would be better to maintain status quo and let the situation evolve gradually for the society.

In his speech, PM Lee said:

“So in America, there are fierce debates over gay rights and same-sex marriages.  And the conservatives in America are pushing back.  President George Bush has been calling for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and not between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman.  This is in America.  So the issue is still joined.  Even within the churches, it is a hot subject…

…So, this is not an issue where we can reach happy consensus and abolishing section 377A, were we to do this, is not going to end the argument in Singapore.  Among the conservative Singaporeans, the deep concerns over the moral values of society will remain and, among the gay rights’ activists, abolition is not going to give them what they want because what they want is not just to be freed from section 377A, but more space and full acceptance by other Singaporeans.  And they have said so.  So, supposing we move on 377A, I think the gay activists would push for more, following the example of other avant garde countries in Europe and America, to change what is taught in the schools, to advocate same-sex marriages and parenting, to ask for, to quote from their letter, “…exactly the same rights as a straight man or woman.”  This is quoting from the open letter which the petitioners wrote to me.  And when it comes to these issues, the majority of Singaporeans will strenuously oppose these follow-up moves by the gay campaigners and many who are not anti-gay will be against this agenda, and I think for good reason.

Therefore, we have decided to keep the status quo on section 377A.  It is better to accept the legal untidiness and the ambiguity.  It works, do not disturb it.  Mr Stewart Koe, who is one of the petitioners, was interviewed yesterday and he said he wanted the Government to remove the ambiguity and clarify matters.

…First of all, I do not think it is like that, and secondly, I do not think it is wise to try to force the issue.  If you try and force the issue and settle the matter definitively, one way or the other, we are never going to reach an agreement within Singapore society.  People on both sides hold strong views.  People who are presently willing to live and let live will get polarised and no views will change, because many of the people who oppose it do so on very deeply held religious convictions, particularly the Christians and the Muslims and those who propose it on the other side, they also want this as a matter of deeply felt fundamental principles.  So, discussion and debate is not going to bring them closer together.  And instead of forging a consensus, we will divide and polarise our society.

I should therefore say that as a matter of reality, the more the gay activists push this agenda, the stronger will be the push back from conservative forces in our society, as we are beginning to see already in this debate and over the last few weeks and months.  And the result will be counter productive because it is going to lead to less space for the gay community in Singapore.  So it is better to let the situation evolve gradually.

…When it comes to issues like the economy, technology, education, we better stay ahead of the game, watch where people are moving and adapt faster than others, ahead of the curve, leading the pack.  And when necessary on such issues, we will move even if the issue is unpopular or controversial.  So we are moving on CPF changes, we are moving on so many economic restructuring changes.  We moved on IRs – it is a difficult subject, not everybody supports the Government, but we decide this is right, we move.

On issues of moral values with consequences to the wider society, first we should also decide what is right for ourselves, but secondly, before we are carried away by what other societies do, I think it is wiser for us to observe the impact of radical departures from the traditional norms on early movers.  These are changes which have very long lead times before the impact works through, before you see whether it is wise or unwise.  Is this positive?  Does it help you to adapt better?  Does it lead to a more successful, happier, more harmonious society?

So, we will let others take the lead, we will stay one step behind the frontline of change; watch how things work out elsewhere before we make any irrevocable moves.  We were right to uphold the family unit when western countries went for experimental lifestyles in the 1960s – the hippies, free love, all the rage, we tried to keep it out.  It was easier then, all you had were LPs and 45 RPM records, not this cable vision, the Internet and travel today.  But I am glad we did that, because today if you look at Western Europe, the marriage as an institution is dead.  Families have broken down, the majority of children are born out of wedlock and live in families where the father and the mother are not the husband and wife living together and bringing them up.  And we have kept the way we are.  I think that has been right.

I think we have also been right to adapt, to accommodate homosexuals in our society, but not to allow or encourage activists to champion gay rights as they do in the West.  So I suggest, Mr Speaker, and I suggest to the Members of the House, we keep this balance, leave section 377A alone.  I think there is space in Singapore and room for us to live harmoniously and practically, all as Singapore citizens together.

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