- Institute of Policy Studies
After more than 84,000 people signed a petition to keep Penal Code 377A in Singapore, the Chief of Government Communications and the Director of the Institute of Policy Studies, Janadas Devan, had his say on the matter.
The section of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, has been the subject of discussion in Singapore after the Indian Supreme Court struck down a similar section of the Indian Penal Code last week.
And Janadas has revealed not only what he thinks, but also what the late founding prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, thought about the law.
In a Facebook post on Saturday (Sept 8), Janadas said that “the majority view will have to be taken into account when the Executive and Parliament are considering changing the law, especially when it comes to divisive issues like 377A”.
He also added, “Till the majority changes, the “uneasy compromise” on 377A, as PM Lee described it, that we decided upon more than a decade ago, remains the only viable position: Given the majority view, the law remains on the books. But the Government does not and will not enforce 377A.”
This was the same view that the late Lee Kuan Yew as well as the other Prime Ministers of Singapore, Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong, held, according to Janadas.
He wrote: “(Lee Kuan Yew) said explicitly he thought homosexuality should not be criminalised because he believed it was genetically determined.”
The late Mr Lee also had two “don’ts” when it came to the law – the first was to not change the law because it will upset the “sense of propriety and right and wrong” of the majority; and the second was to not “go around like this moral police — barging into people’s rooms.”
Personally, Janadas said that he hopes that “377A will one day disappear — and I hope, sooner rather than later — for I believe it is wrong to criminalise homosexuality. In the meantime, I support the ‘uneasy compromise’ we have forged, for it is the only viable position to take”.
Meanwhile, a Singaporean disc jockey, 43-year-old Johnson Ong Ming, who goes by the stage name DJ Big Kid, filed a court challenge against Section 377A with the High Court earlier this week.
Ong is being represented by lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam and a pre-trial conference has been fixed for September 25.
In his filing, Ong, who is in a relationship with a man, said he was aware of the 2014 decision, but argued the court should depart from that precedent given international judicial developments since 2014.
In the court filing, Ong also argues that Section 377A targets only gay men and not gay women, and so goes against the right to equality enshrined in Article 12 of the Constitution.
Ong is relying on a 2015 report by the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration which argues that “sexual orientation is unchangeable or suppressible at unacceptable personal cost”.
His lawyer Thuraisingam, who is acting pro bono, said: “We will be presenting medical and scientific evidence to show that sexuality is inherent and is not a choice.”
This is not the first time a legal challenge against Section 377A has been filed.
In 2014, the highest court in Singapore rejected the claims of gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, as well as Tan Eng Hong, that the provision was unconstitutional and discriminatory.