Repeal, repel, restate

At the National Day Rally, our Prime Minister announced that Singapore will repeal S377A. This will no doubt alter the moral and social landscape of the nation, in which the Church is called to be salt and light. In this editorial, I would like to broadly outline the approach of the government and offer suggestions on how the church can herself respond.

Before that, however, I will address one prevailing myth on either side of the debate, which has muddled the conversation to date.

The “Retain S377A” Myth: S377A is an important moral marker for a society.

Many on the Retain camp believe that S377A serves as an effective “marker for many moral and social considerations”[1]. Based on my observation, the evidence simply does not bear that out. Anecdotally, I have never heard anyone say, “I wasn’t sure about whether homosexuality should be socially accepted or not, but when I learnt about S377A, I realised that it is morally wrong.” That is simply not the way adults moralise.

In terms of public policy, the existence of S377A did nothing to curb the rise of LGBT activism, prevent the High Court from granting adoption to a single man in a same-sex relationship [2] or censor positive portrayals of LGBT people in the media.

In short, S377A isn’t a bulwark against the tide of LGBT activism. That is simply a myth. In reality, it’s mainly employed by the LGBT community as a symbol of oppression, discrimination and injustice. And with each successive legal challenge it faces, it grows less effective, and more divisive. Contrary to the prevailing myth, S377A is far less a moral gate than a termite-riddled door — one best replaced with something more robust.

The “Repeal S377A” Myth: Singapore is a secular society.

There have been plenty of misgivings from the Repeal camp about what they view as religious groups (especially Christians) attempting to impose their religious beliefs onto a secular nation. Any opinion that arises from religion, the argument goes, has no place in a secular state. This misunderstands the character of a secular state.

That Singapore is a secular state means the government does not recognise an official state religion. It does not mean the government has to disregard religious opinion in their legislative and policy considerations. Pushed to its logical conclusion, that principle would result in the following scenario: “In a day where every single Singaporean except one subscribes to a religion, the government should only consider that one non-religious person’s opinion as the basis for all parliamentary activity.”

An example of such a country would be Communist Soviet Union in the 20th Century, where the government officially espoused “scientific atheism” and actively sought to eradicate all forms of religion in the nation. Singapore neither is, nor claims to be, nor wants to be, such a country.

Singapore may be a secular state, but it is a deeply religious society, with 80% of the population religiously affiliated. [3]Granted, the state should not make decisions by appealing to religious doctrine, but it is nonetheless incumbent upon a democratic government of a multi-religious citizenry to listen to the viewpoints of religious groups (as well as non-religious groups, of course), and to represent their interests equitably. It is a myth to imagine that a secular state should by no means acquiesce to the requests of religious citizens.

Having said that, let us now consider the action plan of government vis-à-vis S377A, which consists of a three-pronged approach: (1) Repeal, (2) Repel and (3) Restate.

Repeal S377A

The Judiciary branch of the government have signalled to the Legislature that S377A is at significant risk of being struck down by way of legal challenge. Because this law pertains to social values and norms, its fate should be more appropriately decided by the parliament, rather than the court. For the government to continue maintaining the status quo, therefore, is both untenable and irresponsible. The time is has come for the repeal of S377A.

Repel future legal challenges to the definition of marriage.

In tandem with the repeal of S377A is an amendment to the c