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Opinion: Should Singapore’s Section 377A be ‘trimmed’?

in SINGAPORE, 27/02/2013

With two cases challenging Singapore’s anti-gay law pending in the High Court, the country’s Law Minister has met with both LGBT groups and church members to discuss the country’s stance on gay rights. While LGBT advocates want to see Section 377A – which criminalises sex between men – repealed, conservative church leaders insist that it be retained.

While refraining from commenting on the constitutionality of the legislation, The Straits Times‘ journalist Andy Ho suggests another way in which the dilemma could be resolved. In his article he suggests that the law be ‘trimmed’; that is, reworded so that the law is able to satisfy both parties. Ho suggests that Section 377A be reworded so as to outlaw gay and lesbian sex, but only in public. In fairness, he also suggests that mirror provisions be made to cover straight men and women as well.

What Ho doesn’t mention is that there are already laws that can cover these offences: Section 20 of the Miscellaneous Offences Act outlaws “any riotous, disorderly or indecent behaviour” in public while Section 294A criminalises “any obscene act in any public place”. Although Tan Eng Hong – one of the men bringing up a constitutional challenge in court – was first charged with 377A, he was later charged under 294A. This shows that there is already provision to punish indecent public acts without 377A, trimmed or not.

Ho’s suggestion also raises another question: how far should the State go to be ‘balanced’ and accommodate all points of view? Do all issues really have to address both sides? And even if all issues have multiple perspectives, does it automatically follow that all perspectives are valid?

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