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Photo from ready4repeal.com

The government stays on the sidelines, while society struggles for common ground on 377A

by Augustine Low

One side calls the other out for moral corruption and degradation. The other side points the finger at hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

When there are two vigorous opposing sides to Section 377A of the Penal Code, things can get pretty polarising.

And the “government is in the middle,” according to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. How neat! Just let society decide if it wants to keep or repeal 377A. The problem is that it is an issue which can sow discord and division, as seen by the tit-for-tat petitions, contentious videos and heated rhetoric.

Achieving common ground for 377A is clearly not easy – maybe near impossible.

It’s ingenious of the government to stay on the sidelines because even Pope Francis, the supreme pontiff, could not set the tone on sexuality issues for his flock of 1.2 billion Catholics.

In 2013, Pope Francis said in a media interview: “If someone is gay and is looking for the Lord, who aim I to judge him? You should not discriminate against or marginalise these people.”

Not words you would expect to hear from the head of the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that gay sex is a sin.

The liberal and progressive Pope faced rebellion and fierce pushback from conservatives and traditionalists in the Vatican. They took issue with his openness and relaxed stance not only on homosexuality but also on cohabitation, abortion and divorce.

Opposition became so heated that some advisers explicitly warned Pope Francis to tread carefully to avoid a “schism” or split and division in the Church.

The result is that the Pope has had to take a step back, weighed down by conservative forces wanting to preserve the status quo on Church doctrine and sacred institutions like traditional marriage.

The supreme pontiff felt the impetus for the Church to transform and embrace contemporary cultural mores. But he could not overcome the huge blowback from those who resisted vigorously and even called him a ‘heretic” because they wanted to preserve the Church exactly as it was.

So here we are in Singapore, conservatives and traditionalists pushing back against liberals and progressives.

Advocates and activists say gay men face discrimination, have to live “in hiding, in shame and in fear” and are subject to “online assaults, vitriol and abuse.”

While institutions like the National Council of Churches of Singapore is against repealing 377A because the homosexual lifestyle “is not only harmful for individuals, but also for families and society as a whole.”

Each side opposes the other with vigour, sometimes even contempt. In such a scenario, how do we ever hope to achieve common ground?

Sooner rather than later, the government or Parliament will have to break the impasse. The longer the forces for and against 377A have a go at each other, the more polarising it becomes and the greater the likelihood of things coming to a boil.