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During the BBC episode of HARDtalk aired on Tuesday, 28 February 2017, host Stephen Sackur asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about homosexuality and gay equality. Transcript: Sackur: Well, let's talk symbols then. About the identity of Singapore today and what you want it to look like in the years to come. There's been a lot of discussion, shall I say, inside the city-state, about your repressive law on homosexuality. It is still technically illegal thanks to statute, I think, number 377A for two consenting male adults to have sex. It is a criminal offence. Now I know that the Singapore judicial authorities choose not to prosecute men for doing it, but why not, as a symbol of change in this country, get that off the statute book? Lee: It's a matter of society values. We inherited this from British Victorian attitudes. Sackur: And I'm sure you do not want Singapore today to reflect British Victorian attitudes. Lee: We are not British, we are not Victorian, but this is a society which is not that liberal on these matters. Attitudes have changed but I believe if you had a referendum on the issue today, 377A would stand. The majority of Singaporeans believe... Sackur: You've been in power for, what, more than twelve years yourself. Is it not your role as a leader to signal to your people that Singapore can and must adapt to changing social mores. Lee: On social moral issues, I think the government's role is not to lead. It is, people believe this, they believe, some of them believe this fervently, it's a vex issue in every society. I think we just let it... Sackur: Let me ask you a personal question. I mean, I don't wish to sound rude in any way but... Lee: You never are. Sackur: ...if any of your children or grandchildren were gay, would that change your perspective? Would you then think it were unacceptable for consenting adults to be criminalised this way? Lee: I think that it's a law which is there. If I remove it, I will not remove the problem. Because if you look at what has happened in the West, I mean in Britain, you decriminalised it in the 1960s, your attitudes have changed a long way but even now, gay marriage is contentious. In America, it's very contentious. Even in France, in Paris, they've had demonstrations in the streets against gay marriage. Sackur: But what's your personal view? Would you like, all things being equal, to get rid of 377A? Lee: My personal view is that if I don't have a problem, this is an uneasy compromise, I'm prepared to live with it until social attitudes change.


Lee: We are completely open. We have one of the fastest Internet accesses in the world. We have no Great Wall of the Internet. You can get any site in the world you wish. So where is the restriction? Sackur: So if the government of Britain were to make linkages between a trade deal and seeking guarantees about human rights, press freedoms, workers' rights, demonstrators' rights in this country, your reaction would be? Lee: I would wait to react until I see it. You look at the Americans. They don't lack fervour and moral causes. They promote democracy, freedom of speech, women's rights, gay rights, sometimes even transgender rights. But you don't see them applying that universally across the world, with all their allies? Yes, they do it where the cost is low. You can take a high position. But you look at some of the most important oil producers in the world. Do they conform? Have they been pressured? You have to do business. The world is a diverse place. Nobody has a monopoly of virtue or wisdom. And unless we can accept that, and we prosper together, and cooperate together, accepting our differences - differences in values, differences in outlooks, differences even in what we see the goals of life to be - I think it becomes difficult. Links:

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