Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Singapore Government Fines TV Station for Gay Show - Got Me Thinking Again About 377A!

Firstly, many people are probably already aware of this incident that occurred late last month involving the popular TV series, "Find and Design" - if not let me get you up to pace.

April 24, 2008

SINGAPORE—A Singapore television station has been fined for airing a show that depicted a gay couple and their baby in a way that "promotes a gay lifestyle," the city-state's media regulator said Thursday.

The Media Development Authority fined MediaCorp TV Channel 5 $11,000, it said in a statement on its Web site.

The station aired an episode of a home and decor series called "Find and Design" that featured a gay couple wanting to transform their game room into a new nursery for their adopted baby.

The authority said the episode contained scenes of the gay couple with their baby and the presenter's congratulations and acknowledgment of them as a family unit "in a way which normalizes their gay lifestyle and unconventional family setup."

The episode was in breach of rules on free-to-air television programming, which disallows content that promotes, justifies or glamorizes gay lifestyles, the statement said.

Earlier this month, the authority fined a Singapore cable television operator, StarHub Cable Vision $7,200 for airing a commercial that showed two lesbians kissing.

Under Singapore law, gay sex is deemed "an act of gross indecency," punishable by a maximum of two years in jail.

Despite the official ban on gay sex, there have been few prosecutions. Authorities have banned gay festivals and censored gay films, saying homosexuality should not be advocated as a lifestyle choice.

This Article Got Me Thinking Again on the (not so long ago) debate on the repeal or retention of Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore.

My intention here is not to spark up dissent or offend anybody, rather it is to perhaps raise the awareness of Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike that did not follow this debate as it unfolded in parliament (many people I have spoken to in Australia did not know this debate took place, and furthermore did not even realize that this law existed in Singapore). I will attempt to remain completely neutral in my statements and allow my readers to form their own opinions and assumptions, nor do any of the 'arguments' I cite below from both sides reflect my opinion one way or the other (remember I come from a very 'liberal' country by Singapore standards). One main reason for my neutrality is due to the sensitive nature of this debate, and I do not wish to jeapordize the integrity or legality of my blog given that I live here in Singapore.

Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore is the main remaining piece of legislation which criminalises sex between mutually consenting adult men.

Section 377A ("Outrages on decency") states that:

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.

Homosexual sex is still illegal in Singapore under section 377A. Constitutional rights for gay people are nonexistent for the most part, and penalties for crimes relating to homosexual acts is up to 2 year's jail (s377A). However, in October 2007, during the Penal Code review and repeal of section 377, the Singapore government declared that private, consensual, adult homosexual sex would no longer be prosecuted but that its illegality would remain as a statement of the values of the "conservative majority".

Legislation from October 2007

On the 23rd October 2007 oral and anal sex was legalised for heterosexuals only. The changes mean oral and anal sex between consenting heterosexual adults is no longer an offense but section 377A, which deals with oral and anal sex between consenting men, remains in force. "Singapore is basically a conservative society," the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, told MPs before the vote. "The family is the basic building block of this society. And by family in Singapore we mean one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit."

Arguments raised

Advocates of the repeal often cited reasons of civil liberty, human rights, and increasing scientific evidence that homosexuality was inborn and found in nature. Opponents of the repeal based their arguments on the conviction that to decriminalise homosexuality would result in a breakdown of the family unit, compromise Singapore's position on procreation, and lead to future undesirable scenarios such as the approval of bestiality and paedophila.

Opponents of the repeal also emphasised the wishes of the putative conservative majority to retain 377A. This was despite there being no formal survey or census done specifically on the topic. In various Singaporean online forums, such as Reach, and the AsiaOne Forum, strong opinions such as homosexuality being genetic disease, the existence of a militant gay agenda originating from the West, homosexuality being a product of Western decadence incompatible with Singapore, were repeatedly posted. Conversion treaments, such as those by NARTH, were also recommended.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was quoted in The Straits Times of 18 September 2007 saying that public feedback on the issue had been "emotional, divided and strongly expressed", with a majority of people calling for section 377A to be retained. The MHA also said that it recognised that "we are generally a conservative society and that we should let the situation evolve".

The prospect for the repeal of both sections 377 and 377A in Singapore captured the attention of gay activists worldwide. In August 2007, on a visit to Singapore, award-winning movie star and thespian Sir Ian McKellen made an appeal to the authorities to get rid of this remnant of British colonial law, just as his country of origin had done.

Britain, the former British colony of Hong Kong, and Australia have since repealed laws prohibiting sex between men in 1967, 1991 and 1997 (in the state of Tasmania, the last Australian state to do so) respectively. In Asia, apart from Singapore, only Malaysia and India, both of which are former British colonies, continue to criminalise sex between men.

On 3 October 2007, another online appeal was launched via the website Repeal377a.com to gather signatories for an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for the repeal of section 377A. In response, a counter-petition on the website Keep377a.com was set up by entrepreuneur Martin Tan to give citizens a channel to voice support for the Government's retention of the law. By 1:30 pm on 20 October, Keep377a had overtaken Repeal377a by 7,068 to 7,058 signatories in just two days of its launch.

On 12 October 2007, leading members of Singapore's arts fraternity, both gay and straight, took part on a promotional video titled Repeal 377A Singapore!. Concerned with the video's narrow presentation of issues, a "Families Petition" was launched by an independent focus group Familyoverfreedom to run until 9 August 2015 as an awareness campaign aimed at educating the middle-ground of undecided voters on the potential long-term impact of a repeal on the institution of the family.

Parliamentary Debate

On 22 October 2007, Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong tabled a petition to the Parliament of the Republic of Singapore in support of the repeal of section 377A. A petition is required to pass through the scrutiny of the Public Petitions Committee in order for the issue to be fully debated in Parliament. The debate which ensued regarding the petition was the most heated in recent Parliamentary history.

The most vehement opposition to the petition was voiced by fellow NMP Thio Li-ann, imploring the government to retain section 377A.

There were Members of Parliament of the ruling party, however, who spoke up in support of repealing section 377A or to highlight its legal and moral inconsistencies, such as PAP MPs Charles Chong, Baey Yam Keng and Hri Kumar Nair.

Other PAP backbenchers, while endorsing the retention of Section 377A, also offered words of support for the gay community.

Indranee Rajah, a PAP Member of Parliament and former chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Law and Home Affairs, reiterated the MHA's "assurance" that it would not actively prosecute people under that section. "But in recognition of the fact that there is still quite a strong majority uncomfortable with homosexuality, the section must stay," she said. However, she suggested that Singaporean society could evolve to accept homosexuality in the future.

Opposition MP and Workers' Party chairperson Sylvia Lim did not take a stand regarding the repeal of Section 377A. She proposed the setting up of a Select Committee to scrutinise the wording and execution of the Penal Code and to comprehensively archive and make publicly available feedback from all civic groups.

In his concluding speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the point that Singapore remained, as a whole, a conservative society uncomfortable with the notion of homosexuality. Thus to repeal Section 377A could result in a severe schism within the nation. However, in recognition of the fact that homosexuals do contribute to the country, Section 377A would not be actively enforced. Homosexuals would be left to lead their private lives without harassment. The Prime Minister explained, "The decision on whether or not to decriminalise gay sex is a very divisive one and until there is a broader consensus on the matter, Singapore will stick to the status quo."

The eventual decision by Parliament was to retain Section 377A.


The debate over whether or not to repeal Singapore's anti-gay law attracted widespread attention from the international media, as it was perceived to be a bellwether of Singapore's human rights record.

In view of the lack of precedent of there being a law in the Penal Code retained only for symbolic reasons, not to be enforced, plus the ambiguity over what constituted "gross indecency", and the repeal of the original Section 377 criminalising carnal intercourse against the order of nature, some academic lawyers have argued that ironically, homosexual anal sex in Singapore was no longer illegal even though the apparently less abhorrent gay oral sex still was.

So this pretty sums up where we are at today in Singapore with 377A... what do you think? Feel free to leave a comment or vote on the poll located on the left of this page.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The typical singaporean tend to be homophobic. The government is the same. However if you are a gay with influence, they will look the other way. Confucian values will be used to explain actions when ever it's convenient. The rest of the time economic considerations are used.