ST Online Forum: Wrong to compare S377A with S498 of the Penal Code (Oct 20)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wrong to compare S377A with S498 of the Penal Code

I STRONGLY disagree with the assertions made in the letter, 'Why is one law 'archaic' and not the other?' (ST, Oct 18), by Ms Tan Yen Ling.

Ms Tan has made a grossly inappropriate comparison between S377A and S498 of the Penal Code. S377A prohibits acts of gross indecency between two men (for example, homosexual sex), whereas S498 prohibits the enticing or taking away or detaining with a criminal intent a married woman.

According to the explanatory note to the Penal Code revision, S498 of the Penal Code is archaic. It is indeed archaic because it is based on the wrong assumption that women are chattels and therefore 'second class'. Today, the equal status of women vis man is recognised under law. Women are educated and many enjoy financial independence and can own property. Our laws recognise the equal status of women and men while principles of justice tell us all human beings, man or woman, have intrinsic worth. It is therefore, and has always been, wrong to discriminate based on gender. Singapore, which has signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, takes the rights of women seriously.

S377A of the Penal Code is not archaic. It does not touch on 'status' but prohibits morally controversial behaviour. Sexual orientation is not an immutable or fixed trait. This is different from the equality of men and women which is a universal principle of justice though law may not always embody; there is sometimes a time lag before law catches up with fundamental principles. While the US Declaration of Independence in 1776 declared: 'All men are created equal', it took some time before the institution of slavery was abolished.

Whether heterosexuality and homosexuality are morally equal is a highly politicised issue which is universally controversial. Moral behaviour is distinct and should be treated differently from biological sex (gender). To compare S377A with S498 is tantamount to comparing durians with mangosteens. The comparison, therefore, fails to speak to the S377A debate.

The broader question that must be considered is whether the repeal of S377A is harmful to individuals and the broader community, rather than the age of the law.

Soh Chai Lih (Ms)