Parliamentary Speeches

Committee of Supply Debate 2022 on "Singapore's Approach to Criminal Justice" [Court Judgement on s377A] - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 03 March 2022

1.   I will first address Mr Derrick Goh’s question about the recent Court of Appeal judgment on the constitutional challenge to Section 377A (s377A) of the Penal Code.

2.   AGC is looking at the judgment carefully.

3.   The Government has explained its stand. Prime Minister Lee said in Parliament in 2007, when the Penal Code was amended but s377A was left unchanged, that we want to be “a stable society with traditional heterosexual family values, but with space for homosexuals to live their lives and to contribute to society”. He added: “among them are some of our friends, our relatives, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, or some of our children”. “Our kith and kin”. This remains our stand today.

4.   These are deeply divisive issues; that is why we take a live and let live approach. We seek to be an inclusive society, where mutual respect and tolerance for different views and practices are paramount. Government has thus taken the approach that while s377A remains on the books, there will be no proactive enforcement. And, AGC takes a similar approach. We expressly included in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) that any attack on LGBT+ groups, or on persons because they are LGBT+, will be an offence, and will not be tolerated. LGBT+ individuals are entitled to live peacefully, without being attacked or threatened. Likewise, any attack on any other group, based on their religion, or religious beliefs, even if those beliefs run counter to values held by LGBT+ groups will not be acceptable. 

5.   Our emphases on gradual evolution and on traditional families remain constant. However, since this issue was last discussed in Parliament in 2007, social attitudes towards homosexuality have gradually shifted. One of the things that upsets the LGBT+ community is that many feel that their experience of being hurt or rejected by their families, friends, schools and companies – is not recognised indeed, often denied. At the same time, a large majority want to preserve the overall tone of our society – in particular, the traditional view of marriage as being between a man and a woman, and that children should be raised within such a family structure. Their concern is not s377A per se, but the broader issues of marriage and family. Many amongst this group, also support decriminalising homosexual sex between men. Both these viewpoints are valid and important.

6.   Policies need to evolve to keep abreast of such changes in views. And legislation needs to evolve to support updated policies. The Government is considering the best way forward. We must respect the different viewpoints, consider them carefully, talk to the different groups. And, if and when we decide to move, we will do so in a way that continues to balance between these different viewpoints, and avoids causing a sudden, destabilising change in social norms and public expectations.

7.   If you look at successive Court judgments over the years, the Courts have consistently taken the position that these are highly contentious social issues, and within the province of Parliament. The heterosexual stable family remains the social norm. And the current legal position reflects our society’s norms, values and attitudes. That’s what the Courts have said.

8.   In this latest judgment, the Court noted that the compromise which Singapore has struck, in respect of s377A, is unique. Our approach strikes a balance between preserving the legislative status quo, whilst accommodating the concerns of those directly affected by the legislation. The Court recognised that the Government did this in order to avoid driving a deeper wedge within our society. It also noted that Singapore’s approach seeks to keep what to do with s377A within the democratic space. Socially charged issues, such as s377A, call for continued discussion and open-ended resolution within the political domain, where we can forge consensus, rather than in win-lose outcomes in Court. In this way, we can accommodate divergent interests, avoid polarisation, facilitate incremental change. Furthermore, the Court highlighted the importance of creating space for peaceful co-existence among the various groups, especially since the balance between the various interests around s377A has grown more delicate.

9.   These opinions align with the approach that the government has taken in dealing with s377A, and that it intends to take as it considers the changes in our social landscape since 2007.