Law Minister says Govt careful of being ahead of public opinion
by Teo Xuanwei
05:55 AM Jul 06, 2009
FOLLOWING an Indian high court’s recent landmark decision last week which overturned a 150-year-old British colonial era law criminalising homosexuality, is it time for Singapore – whose laws are “copied” from India – to repeal Section 377A?
The answer is no, says Law Minister K Shanmugam, because Singapore society is “not ready” for that. “There is a group that is actively committed to saying that homosexuality is okay,” said Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Second Minister for Home Affairs.
“But probably a majority of Singaporeans are still very conservative and say that this is totally not acceptable. So, the Government has to respect both sides.”
He was responding to a question posed by a resident, Ms Khartini Abdul Khalid during a dialogue session when he visited Punggol Central Division yesterday.
While the Government has to “set the standards” on many issues, it must “be careful about being ahead of public opinion,” he said.
“If the majority of our population is against homosexuality, then it’s not for the Government to say we are going to force something against the wishes of the people,” he said, reiterating the Government’s stance when a motion to repeal the law banning homosexual acts in Singapore was intensely debated in Parliament in 2007.
Section 377A – which makes those convicted liable to imprisonment up to two years – was not repealed eventually, even though the Government said it would not actively enforce it.
Mr Shanmugam explained that India’s laws on homosexuality have not changed. Instead, it was the New Delhi High Court’s interpretation that “with the current evidence available and the current social situations in many parts of the world … you can no longer consider homosexuality to be a wrongful sexual activity”, he said.
Mr Shanmugam stressed that Singapore’s courts are likewise free to interpret the law the same way. “Whether the courts will take the same interpretations, I don’t know, but it’s up to the courts.”