A top Singapore cabinet minister has said that the country will not prosecute gay men under its colonial era anti-sodomy law. 

In an interview on BBC’s Hardtalk program on June 29, 2022, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that section 377A of the country’s penal code that criminalises homosexuality, will not be used in cases of gay sex. The minister described it as a “messy compromise” in a conservative society. 

“The position in Singapore is that people engaging in gay sex will not be prosecuted. Even though there is this old piece of law, which makes gay sex amongst males an offence, the Attorney General has confirmed that position and the Supreme Court has said that the government’s position is legal for us.”

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In 2007, Singapore’s Parliament had repealed Section 377 of the penal code, which criminalised oral and anal sex between consenting adults. Section 377A, which criminalised sex between men was however not removed. The law does not apply to women.

Many In The Country Do Not Want Law Repealed, Says Minister

Shanmugam claimed that there were many in the country that did not want the law repealed. 

“A significant proportion of our population, the middle ground as it were, don’t want that law repealed. Attitudes are shifting somewhat, but still the Singapore government cannot ignore those fears. So we have arrived at this sort of messy compromise in the last 15 years and we have taken this path because these issues are difficult, they are not easily settled. And we have made clear LGBTQ+ individuals are entitled to live peacefully without being attacked or threatened,” the minister said. 

Shanmugham also pointed to the recent Roe v Wade US Supreme Court judgement and Justice Clarence Thomas’ comments against judgments that legalised homosexuality and gay marriages. 

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“Let’s face it, it’s not as if others have solved the issue (with regard to LGBTQI rights). A Supreme Court judge from the United States suggested a few days ago that court decisions on legality of gay sex and same sex marriage may have to reconsidered,” said Shanmugham, adding the Parliament was relooking at some laws. 

Will Section 377A Be Repealed In The Future?

 

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Host Stephen Sackur sought the minister’s response to an Ipsos survey which showed young Singaporeans support legalising same-sex relationships. 

Shanmugham said that the government’s survey did not support that view and refused to make a statement about whether section 377A would be repealed in the future. 

“Attitudes are shifting but I’m not quite sure they are shifting as much as what Ipsos has said. The second point is that we are in deep consultations with stakeholders, including LGBTQ+ community, as well as others,” said the minister, adding, “What we are going to do can only be announced once a decision is reached, I’m in no position to answer that question with finality at this point.”

In March 2022, Singapore’s highest court had declined to overturn section 377A that criminalises sex between men. The Court of Appeal had left it up to the Parliament to change laws after the government promised not to enforce the law.



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