In Pastor ambushes Goh Chok Tong with demand to defend 377A, I said that Goh Chok Tong gave a wooden response. Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong seems determined to outdo Goh in maladroit replies.
At a forum on Monday, 28 January 2013, he was faced with a question on section 377A of the Penal Code, asked by Braema Mathi, the president of human rights group Maruah. Today newspaper reported the question, although it did not report her name.
Mr Lee was asked by a participant how the fact that the Republic is a secular country reconciles with “an old and archaic law that nearly discriminates against a whole (group) of people”.
In response, Mr Lee noted that in countries that do not criminalise homosexuality, “the struggles don’t end”. He cited the example of recent demonstrations in Paris by supporters and detractors of gay marriage.
“Why is that law on the books? Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it,” said Mr Lee, adding that he had explained his decision in 2007 to retain Section 377A.
– Today newspaper, 29 Jan 2013, Let’s agree to disagree on gay rights: PM Lee, by Tan Weizhen
He touched on the gay issue again in response to another question, this time by actress Janice Koh
Mr Lee also brought up the issue of gay rights — which has come under the spotlight again recently — in response to a question from actress Janice Koh, who is also a Nominated Member of Parliament.
Ms Koh asked whether there is space for public discussions on issues that are potentially polarising.
She noted that such discussions could help build a more resilient society.
Citing the example of gay rights, Mr Lee said: “These are not issues that we can settle one way or the other, and it’s really best for us just to leave them be, and just agree to disagree. I think that’s the way Singapore will be for a long time.”
He added that the “conservative roots” in society do not want to see the social landscape change.
Today reported that
Reiterating that Singapore society is not likely to come to a conclusion on gay rights, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong signalled yesterday that the status quo will remain — and his position on Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, still stands.
However, in the last extract, you’d notice that the newspaper didn’t say exactly what Lee’s words were, so we should read this report with care. Was the newspaper drawing its own conclusion from the above-quoted answers, or did Lee actually say that the status quo would remain?
Even if he didn’t exactly say so, the thrust of his quoted words further up (e.g. “Because it’s always been there and I think we just leave it,”) suggest that such an interpretation isn’t altogether wrong.
There are many flaws in Lee’s arguments, e.g. confusing criminalisation with gay marriage, for one. However, since there are enough rebuttals out there on Facebook, I shall move on to another point I wish to make.
Lee must surely know that constitutional challenges against Section 377A of the Penal Code are before the courts. Given his position as head of government, the only responsible reply to Braema Mathi’s question should be something along the lines of “the matter is before the courts and it is the courts who decide what is the law. It is my sworn duty to uphold the law as decided by the courts.”
Instead, he gave an answer that not only shows his complete lack of political skill, but also reveals his cringing fear of the antediluvian wing of Christianity. With the answer he actually gave, he has painted himself into a corner and set himself up to be pummelled by the future should the courts rule the law to be unconstitutional. Hardly any wonder then that, on another subject, he spoke about his lack of 20/20 vision.
Others have pointed out that he should also be pummelled by the Attorney-General who had warned the public on 22 January that:
Meanwhile, we would remind all parties that statements made by members of the public would be sub judice contempt, if the statements are calculated to affect the minds of the courts hearing the case, the minds of parties who are concerned in the case itself, or if they amount to public pre-judgment of the case, and there is a real risk of prejudice.
– Attorney-General’s Chambers, press release, 22 Jan 2013. Link.
Given his political position, any statement by the prime minister in favour of one side of the debate must surely present a real risk of prejudicing the minds of the judges hearing the case. I wonder what the Attorney-General will do now?
* * * * *
Lee’s fear of the Christian rightwing was probably reignited by a recently launched campaign. Several churches reportedly got together to launch a petition against “repeal” of Section 377A. It is somewhat odd because there is no legislative move at the current time for repeal. A constitutional court challenge is quite different from repeal. The whole petition is either misconstrued or deliberately worded in this misleading way to avoid a sub judice charge.
The online petition was launched on 11 January 2013, but was abruptly closed on 22 January after the AGC issued its warning. In its closure notice, it said that by 22 January, it had garnered 11,000 signatures (click thumbnail at right).
Now, here’s the funny thing: A circulating email dated midday 21 January 2013 (about 24 hours before the petition was closed) meant to encourage people to add their names to the petition said they only had 5,797 signatures:
In 2007, there were 15,560 signatures to keep 377a. Fast forward to the 2012 [sic] petition now. To date there are ONLY 5797 signatures to keep 377a.
Dont be surprised if this time, the LGBTs have more numbers to remove 377a compared to conservatives.
I have seen the email, but cannot publish it here lest I accidentally reveal the source.
The conservatives’ lobbying involved more than the petition effort. There was letter writing and a request to meet Law minister K Shanmugam. The minister posted on his Facebook page that he met with a 14-member delegation from a church group named Full Gospel Business Singapore on 22 January. There may be other groups meeting him too.
I also received a copy of a letter said to have been sent to Shanmugam. For the text of the letter, see thumbnail at left. A comment I received was that the language in the letter and the (faulty) arguments deployed sounded very much like those one might expect from Focus on the Family and/or certain well-known Law academics.
Almost simultaneously, another reader pointed out to me the rather curious position of New Creation, a megachurch, in this whole affair. It’s not clear what this church’s position is on the new move to lobby the government — exactly which churches and pastors are involved seem to be a well-guarded secret (now why does it need to be a secret?) — but here is a lovely paradox between “good old Christian family values” and capitalism: Adam Lambert’s concert in March will be held at The Star Performing Arts Centre. The centre is managed by Rock Productions, the business arm of New Creation Church.
If you’re not familiar with who Adam Lambert is, do a websearch. Or just watch this videoclip (especially at 22 seconds) from the last concert he gave while in Singapore, on 25 September 2010:
And even as I write this, another video is circulating. It is from a concert held in Singapore on 26 January 2013 by Taiwanese singer A-mei. The sound quality in the video isn’t good, but the eight-minute clip is there for another reason. On the big screen behind her, mixed-sex and same-sex pairs kiss; I reckon the audience was told beforehand that should the camera focus on them they were encouraged to kiss. Many sportingly did.
What you will notice however is that big cheers erupt when a same-sex couple kisses.
Perhaps Lee Hsien Loong should spend less time worrying about rightwing political Christianity and more time among real people?