If there’s one thing every student can take away from years of history classes is that socio-political changes in one country can cause a spectacular (sometimes slow and disappointing) ripple effect. India’s recent repeal of Section 377A in their Penal Code has stirred up discussion of that same colonial law in countries that were formerly under British rule, including Singapore.
Two camps popped up in Singapore: for and against the repealing of Section 377A which criminalises consensual sex between men. The government recently announced that they will be conducting a major review of the Penal Code which will be tabled in Parliament later this year. However, Section 377A was excluded from the scope of the review via executive decision.
Following that, an online petition (Ready for Repeal) has cropped up to gather support in order to urge the government to include Section 377A in that review, specifically to repeal 377A. Citing the major decision by the Supreme Court of India to repeal 377A from their Penal Code, the authors of this petition are declaring that ‘we are ready for a Singapore that treats all her citizens equally’.
Quoting India’s Chief Justice, “Indian citizens belonging to sexual minorities have waited. They have waited and watched as their fellow citizens were freed from the British yoke while their fundamental freedoms remained restrained under an antiquated and anachronistic colonial-era law − forcing them to live in hiding, in fear, and as second class citizens”.
The petition outlines five reasons that they feel warrant section 377A being repealed by Parliament:
- It is a law the British imposed on Singapore when we were still a British colony, and is no longer relevant.
- It perpetuates discrimination and harms LGBTQ+ Singaporeans by branding them as criminals.
- It prevents Singapore from being a truly pluralistic society that protects the interests of its minorities.
- Our laws should be secular and outside the influence of religious overreach.
- The policy of non-enforcement is vague and arbitrary, and undermines our rule of law.
Lead signatories of the Ready for Repeal petition include many notable names such as Banyan Tree Holdings Executive Chairman and Board of Directors Chairman How Kon Ping and Clair Chiang, social activist Constance Singam, Former PAP politician Darius Cheung, MP Kok Heng Leun, former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, many high-profile businessmen and women, academics. lawyers and doctors. The petition is also support by a number of various pro-LGBTQ+ NGOs and non-profit organisation such as Action for AIDS, Pink Dot SG, MARUAH, and Humanist Society of Singapore.
On the other end of the spectrum, an opposing petition was created to support the retention of Penal code 377A without amendments by a man called Paul P. The authors of the petition cited ‘traditional family values’ as the reason they want to keep 377A, saying that marriage should only be acceptable between man and a woman, therefore repealing 377A would normalise homosexual behaviour and push for greater LGBT rights, which they are clearly against.
The petition said, ‘We do not think the vocal minority should impose their values and practice on the silent majority who are still largely conservative.’
At the time this article was written, the Ready for Repeal petition has over 36,000 signatures while the petition to keep 377A has garnered over 97,000 signatures.