SINGAPORE — The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) on Thursday (28 July) expressed its concern over views aired at a recent closed-door townhall calling for the retention of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men.
The non-profit gender equality organisation said that a pamphlet distributed at the Protect Singapore Townhall held on 23 July had called for Section 377A to be retained until or unless a “new political package” is put in place to “protect” heterosexual marriage, family and children from the supposedly negative impact of LGBTQ activism.
In posts on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, AWARE said, "Rhetoric around 'protection' has been long employed by anti-gay advocates. It falsely assumes that the rights and recognition of one group impinges on those of another, as if freedom was a limited quantity that only so many people might enjoy at one time.
"LGBTQ rights do not impinge on the rights of straight people any more than the existence of one colour impinges on another. There are no indications that heterosexual marriages and families will stop being upheld by policies and laws in Singapore simply because other people are no longer criminalised."
Townhall held 'to protect social institutions'
The three-hour private townhall held at the Singapore Expo convention centre saw a turnout of some 1,200 participants, said organisers Jason Wong and Mohammed Khair on their Facebook pages.
It was held "to protect family, marriage, our freedom of conscience, and most importantly our children, who are at the heart of these social institutions," wrote the organisers.
"We’ve been relatively restrained in the face of an intolerant, vocal minority that seeks to overturn the order in all areas of society – be it marriage, education, businesses, or beliefs, while demonising all those who disagree as 'bigots' or 'haters', instead of engaging us with good faith," they said.
"We urge the Government to maintain the current political package and not to repeal Section 377A unless and until there are adequate safeguards for our marriages, families and freedom of conscience. This includes enshrining man-woman marriage in the Constitution."
In March, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam spoke about Section 377A in Parliament and said that Singapore's policies need to evolve to keep abreast of the gradual shift in society's attitudes towards homosexuality, and that the government is considering the best way forward.
More recently, a survey by market research firm Ipsos found that the proportion of citizens and permanent residents who support Section 377A has fallen over the past four years, from 55 per cent in 2018 to 44 percent in 2022.
Police reports filed, no action to be taken
Police reports were filed in relation to the townhall, although no laws were found to have been broken, according to news outlet TODAY.
"We will not be taking any action against the organisers as there is no criminal offence disclosed," the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told TODAY.
MHA added that the event organisers had applied for a permit under the Public Order Act, but the police assessed that the permit was not required for the private invite-only event.
S377A has 'repercussions on LGBTQ community'
In its social media posts, AWARE said that Section 377A not only stigmatises sex between gay men but also has repercussions on the LGBTQ community who continue to face bullying and discrimination.
"When people cannot be open about their sexual orientation, they face increased stress, limited social support and negative mental and physical health consequences. Repealing S377A, and taking other actions to include LGBTQ people in society, will be an enormous step towards alleviating this burden."
AWARE noted that the planned renegotiation of Singapore’s social compact is an important opportunity to create a more inclusive society.
"We cannot achieve this aspiration, though, if we take for a starting point the denial of the existence and humanity of an entire community," it added.
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