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India’s decision to decriminalise gay sex sparks debate in Singapore

The Tribune 2018-09-07 18:08:00

Seeking legalisation of gay rights, a huge crowd has attended the 10th anniversary of Singapore’s annual Pink Dot gay rights rally in July. Reuters file

The Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalise gay sex in India has sparked a debate in Singapore with the Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam saying the society has to decide which direction it wants to go on an issue related to social values.

The Supreme Court on Thursday decriminalised part of the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises consensual gay sex, saying it was irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.

The apex court unanimously held that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community possess the same constitutional rights as other citizens of the country.

When asked about the ruling by the Indian Supreme Court, Shanmugam said: “(In Singapore) if you look at this issue, it is a deeply split society. The majority are opposed to any change to Section 377-A; they are opposed to removing it,” Shanmugam, an Indian-origin senior minister was quoted as saying by The Straits Times newspaper.

However, he said that a “growing minority” wants to have it repealed. “The government is in the middle”.

The minister said that the subject is related to social values.

“Can you impose viewpoints on a majority when (the issue is) so closely related to social value systems?” asked Shanmugam, adding that in his personal opinion care has to be taken against criminalising lifestyles and sexual attitudes, and treating people involved as criminals.

“(But) it would be wrong for me to impose my personal views on society or as a policymaker,” he said.

“So really, I think society has got to decide which direction it wants to go. And the laws will have to keep pace with changes in society and how society sees these issues,” said Shanmugam.

Meanwhile, veteran Singapore diplomat Tommy Koh called for challenging Section 377-A following India scrapping the same British colonial-era legislation.

“I would encourage our gay community to bring a class action to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377-A,” the paper quoted Koh, also Singapore’s Ambassasor-at-large, as saying. 

Koh’s comments were in response to a Facebook post by Professor Simon Chesterman, dean of the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore. 

When a Facebook user reminded him that previous legal challenges in 2014 on the constitutionality of the law failed, Koh replied: “Try again.”

In 2014, Singapore’s highest court dismissed a constitutional challenge to the law and stated that it was up to Parliament to repeal it.

Despite the challenges, support for gay rights has been growing in recent years in the city-state of 5.6 million.

The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgenders have been discussed in recent years in Singapore which many still consider a fundamentally conservative society. 

Seeking legalisation of gay rights, a huge crowd has attended the 10th anniversary of Singapore’s annual Pink Dot gay rights rally in July. PTI

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