ST: Male homosexual sex to remain a crime (Sept 18)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Male homosexual sex to remain a crime
by Radha Basu
The Straits Times, Sep 18, 2007

Together with marital rape, it was the most hotly debated issue when the proposed changes to the Penal Code were opened for a month of public consultation.

The public has spoken: Homosexual sex will remain a crime in Singapore.

The Government has decided to retain Section 377A of the Penal Code which makes it an offence for any male to 'commit an act of gross indecency' with another male, either in public or private.

Explaining the decision, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that public feedback on the issue had been 'emotional, divided and strongly expressed', with the majority calling for the section to be retained.

'MHA recognises that we are a generally conservative society and that we should let the situation evolve,' the ministry said in a statement.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Law and Home Affairs, said the status quo was arrived at after 'looking at the interests of the community as a whole'.

Ms Indranee Rajah, former chairman of the GPC for Law and Home Affairs, pointed out that MHA had indicated that it would not actively prosecute people under that section.

'But in recognition of the fact that there is still quite a strong majority uncomfortable with homosexuality, the section must stay,' said Ms Indranee.

Whatever the rationale, the status quo has disappointed advocates such as Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong who are in favour of decriminalising homosexual sex.

The move to retain homosexuality as a crime was a 'pity' and 'a lost opportunity', said Mr Siew.

'Keeping Section 377A shows up Singapore as being behind the rest of the world.'

He added that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's comments that homosexuals are 'mostly born that way' and that 'no public purpose is served in interfering in their private lives' had made him hope for homosexual sex to be struck off the Penal Code.

Pointing out that the last major review of the Penal Code occurred in 1984, Mr Siew said: 'Do we need to wait another 23 years for homosexual sex to be decriminalised?'