Since India's ruling to legalise gay sex on 6 Sept 20118 the debate on Section 377a of the Penal Code in Singapore has reignited.
A couple of days after the ruling I received a video from a friend. The video does not show the authors, producers or institutions behind it, but the message is clear, "Keep Section 377a!!!!!" A copy can be found here (https://youtu.be/buxhIeBqlFQ).
What is astonishing about this video is the blatant use of scare tactics to instill terror in the minds of the already ill-informed general population.
I want to address some of the claims in this video to help people gain a more balanced view on the issue.
Section 377a of the Singapore Penal Code
Let's start with clarifying what this section states:
Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.
Please note 2 important points. The law only applies to "male person"; women in Singapore can legally engage in homosexual activities. "Gross indecency" is not fully defined and it leaves much to interpretation.
'Keep or repeal 377a' is not a new debate in Singapore. As recently as 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that 377a is constitutional (Reference).
In a climate that has seen LGBT issues grow in prominence over the last decade, this debate divides Singapore.
And the debate continues!
What claims does the video make?
If law 377a were lifted, the video claims that:
Homosexual behaviour in Singapore would be normalised
Religious leaders would be forced to marry homosexual couples, even if this is specifically prohibited in their religion
Business owners, like for example a baker or florist, who don't want to be involved in gay weddings would pay a price (incarceration) for their stand
Parents would no longer be able to address their children as 'boy' or 'girl', because they should be left to choose what they want to be
Toilets as we know them would disappear and any man or woman would be able to go into the toilet where your child is in and you won't be able to stop it
The list goes on, but there is enough to write a whole book on these points alone. So let's keep this short.
1. Homosexual behaviour in Singapore would be normalised
Regardless of laws, religious, cultural or social beliefs, a percentage of any population is homosexual.
Repealing the law may liberate those who live in desperate fear to finally be themselves, including in public, which would therefore give a perception that homosexuality is on the increase, but this would only be an illusion.
There is nothing to be "normalised" here, it is a normal phenomenon anyway, so let's not bury our heads under the sand.
2. Religious leaders would be forced to marry homosexual couples, even if this is specifically prohibited in their religion
What is this claim actually based on?
A quick scan on the internet for rules relating to same-sex religious marriages suggests the opposite.
"Logics of Freedom: Debating Religious Freedom Laws and Gay and Lesbian Rights" a research paper published in February 2018 clearly shows that "many states have introduced and passed laws that provide religious exemptions for certain services and benefits for LGBTQ persons."
Dr Deagon, a law professor states, "The Marriage Act provides that a minister of religion that's registered under a particular denomination is able to refuse to solemnise a marriage for any reason." This seems to be reflected in the Marriage Act 1961 / Part IV / Division 2 / Section 47, which exempts religious celebrants.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013: states that "Marriage according to religious rites: no compulsion to solemnize etc", which effectively states that only religious institutions that have "opted in" to solemnise such marriages would need to do so.
I am not an expert on statutory law, and I am sure my above references don't provide the full picture of this very complex field; however, I cannot find a hint of evidence suggesting that religious leaders would be forced to solemnise same sex marriages under the threat of incarceration.
3. Business owners, like for example a baker or florist, who don't want to be involved in gay weddings would pay a price (incarceration) for their stand
The video hints at bakers and florists because there have indeed been cases in the USA debated in the courts.
In the case of 'Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission', in 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favour of Jack Phillips, the baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple.
And again, in the case of 'Arlene's Flowers v. Washington', which relates to the florist Barronelle Stutzman referred to in the video, in June 2018, the US Supreme Court sent the case back to Washington court in light of Masterpiece decision.
So is it true that business owners will be incarcerated (as alluded to by the video) if they refuse to serve gay weddings?
Current rulings seem to suggest the opposite, but the jury is still out! Literally!!!!
4. Parents would no longer be able to address their children as 'boy' or 'girl', because they should be left to choose what they want to be
The video claims that if children were taught that homosexuality is right and acceptable (which by the way it is) then we would no longer be able to address them as 'boy' or 'girl', because they should be left to choose what they want to be.
This is a completely separate topic to the one addressed by 377a.
Gender identity is different from sexual orientation. 377a concerns matters of orientation and sexual behaviour.
This is a cheap scare tactic feeding off of the recent social media explosions around the use of gender pronouns and exacerbated by the debates that followed the passing of compelled speech laws in Canada (Bill C-16).
To the untrained mind this claim could easily be confused with 377a matters, and it would certainly add to the fear already elicited by this point in the video.
5. Toilets as we know them would disappear and any man or woman would be able to go into the toilet where your child is in and you won't be able to stop it
No country where same sex activities and marriages have been legalised has invested billions of dollars to change their national toilet-infrastructure to unisex toilets only.
Sure, there have been public debates on the matter, but that's different, very different from what the video seems to suggest.
Are we really expected to believe that children would be in danger when using toilets if 377a were repealed?!?!?
Do parents, teachers or carers currently allow their children to use toilets unsupervised when there are perceived risks? I don't think so! So are we expecting them to stop such healthy supervision practices in a fantasy-world where all toilets are unisex? I don't think so either!!
Dear video producers,
I am saddened to see you use such cheap scare tactics to support your argument to keep 377a.
You have every right to your opinion, to debate and defend it, but please be more accurate and more articulate in your content. This type of scare tactics tend to backfire in an internet-connected world where fact-checking is at the tips of our fingertips.
Let's engage in healthy debates and explore the nuances of this complex issue.
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