Neutral towards LGBT equalityEdit
Low Thia KhiangEdit
This is an excerpt of the speech made by Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Sylvia Lim, chairperson of the Workers' Party (WP) at 5:45 pm on 22 October 2007 during the debate over the Penal Code (Amendments) Bill.
"Sir, next, I would like to say a few words on the Petition presented by the Nominated Member on section 377A. Sir, the Workers' Party leadership, several months ago, discussed extensively the issue of whether section 377A should be retained or repealed. After much deliberation, we were unable to arrive at a consensus that it should be repealed and, as such, we would not be calling for its abolition."
On Friday, 5 April 2018, Workers' Party chief, Pritam Singh, published an article entitled, One Singapore Family: Rising above the Culture War on his blog, Singapore 2025 hosted on Wordpress and also on his Facebook page. It was the transcript of a speech focusing on Section 377A of the Penal Code which he delivered on Wednesday, 3 April 2019 at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Political Association Forum 2019. The latter seminar was a panel discussion on Singapore's future. Singh shared shared his thoughts on the prospect of dealing with divisive issues in the public sphere. The speech effectively broke the Workers' Party's decade-long official silence on the matter. Like his predecessors, he declined to take a stand, saying that the moral courage required to address Section 377A was not in revelling in the glory of taking absolute positions on what one believed was right but in lowering oneself, swallowing one's pride and listening to others.
"One Singapore Family: Rising above the Culture War
Good evening Moderator A/P Bilveer Singh, SMS Chee Hong Tat and Dr Tan Cheng Bock, students, faculty and friends who have come to attend this event. At the outset, I would like to thank the organizers for giving each speaker a broad canvas to speak on anything pertaining to leadership transition and the key social and political challenges facing Singapore in the coming decade.
Today the world faces new challenges and many leaders are on the defensive against the forces of protectionism, ultra-nationalism and anti-intellectualism. Emotions are running high as people are caught up in identity politics and culture wars, fighting over questions of globalization, race, religion, class, gender and sexuality. Critically many seem unwilling to talk and listen to each other forget about trying to engage each other respectfully. A centre does not seem to exist online and perhaps this is not unexpected given the internet’s ecology but it will be worrisome if this state of affairs extends to the real world as well.
In Singapore, the country is retooling for Industry 4.0. But even as we do, our political and social institutions and political leadership will come under pressure from larger global forces in the years to come, if they have not already. The culture war encompassing simplistic extremes, opposing identities and values have entered our mainstream conversations and presents a new fault lines that can damage the overall unity and cohesiveness of Singapore society, a unique society that already has the added task of simultaneously integrating 20,000 – 30,000 new citizens from different races, religions and cultures into the Singapore family each year.
The issues I can speak on make up a very long list. After much reflection, I have decided to focus on a divisive issue that splits Singaporeans. That is the existence of Section 377A on our statute books. As some of you know, an extensive Penal Code review will be debated in Parliament next month. Section 377A’s status is not on the Parliamentary agenda. For those of you who do not know, Section 377A 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.”
In the last decade or more, a culture war pitting, for want of better terms, conservatives holding traditional values against liberals espousing progressive values has crystallized around this piece of colonial statute. This statute was introduced in the Straits Settlements very late in 1938 and can be traced to colonialism and the politics of empire. While many former colonies and Asian countries have gotten rid of this law or taken a clear judicial position on it such as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and more recently India, Singapore continues to wrestle with it.
The problem of Section 377A came to head in 2007 when the culture war become audible in Parliament during a review of the Penal Code to keep up with the times. While oral and anal sex was decriminalised if it involved two women, “any act of gross indecency” between men remained on the statutes.
Prime Minister Lee noted there were very different views among Singaporeans on whether homosexuality was acceptable or morally right, but equally recognised that enforcement of the law was problematic. PM therefore took the position of an “uneasy compromise” on 377A, where the law would remain on the books, but the government would not enforce it.
Our stated position, which remains today, is that WP would not be calling for the repeal of 377A because there is no consensus within the party’s central executive committee on the issue. Even within the party at large, views differ on the matter, a microcosm of Singapore society.
The Culture War
Fast forward slightly more than a decade, Section 377A has become more of a symbolic lightning rod for conservatives and liberals. The culture war has deepened and expanded, consuming time and energy with campaigns pitting against one group against the other in the public sphere. Conservatives frame their campaigns as pro-family, while the liberals refer to theirs as the right-to-love. Such is the nature of advocacy I can understand the necessity of such simple communication. But such framing leaves little room for each side to stop and listen to each other and reduce temperatures. As currently framed, 377A generates a lot of heat, but sheds very little light.
The main issue surrounding some in the conservative camp who focus on pro-family campaigns is the apparently disproportionate focus on the tangential issue of 377A. This is precisely when the institution of the family is coming under a lot of social and economic strain. Young people are delaying marriage, less marriages are taking place, fewer children are being born, divorces are on the rise and whole families are suffering from inequality and even poverty in Singapore. And as a recent Institute of Policy Studies survey has shown us, infidelity is by far the dominant concern surrounding marriage.
We need to focus on the larger issues besetting Singaporean families. It is not useful to deploy the family to defend Section 377A. The political imperative of the leaders of our generation in the decade to come is to equip Singaporean families to face the socio-economic pressures of globalization and disruption, not drag the family into the public square to flog a sin for all to see.
The main issue with some in the liberal camp and their right-to-love campaigns is that they have unwittingly weaponized the concept of love for many of those in the middle, particularly those who do not take a position on the matter. Like many of my peers Section 377A has no effect on my affection and esteem for my LGBT friends. I know faculty at NUS who are gay. Those who taught me were some of the finest intellectual minds I have ever come across. Thousands of undergraduates and graduates would be so much poorer if not their impact and contributions. I know more than a handful of civil servants who are gay. In executing public policy, they are likewise some of the most even-handed and respectful people I know.
But when some in the pro-LGBT camp speak of the right-to-love, the implicit suggestion is that those who align themselves to conservatives, by default hate LGBT people. Our various religious groups and their leadership give a lot of support and comfort to those across the income spectrum, from low-wage workers to high-income earners to deal with the challenges of life. Instead of considering the tremendous contributions people of faith, including Christians and Muslims have made on society and helping those in need and providing a sacred canopy for the faithful, some of respected religious figures and friends are singularly judged through their views on section 337A. This is not fair because even within different faiths, there are different views on issues such as 377A.
Now my friends, the Workers’ Party is against hate, especially when it is enacted in speech and action against people for their race, religion, gender, class, disabilities, sexual orientation and so on. We have seen what hate speech can set off – most tragically a few weeks ago in Christchurch. So let’s be mindful of what we say, particularly online where there are fewer inhibitions, no matter on which side of a polarizing issue we stand on.
The concern I have is how the turning of Section 377A into a political issue may worsen divisions in our society. And I have a few questions I hope the audience can ponder over and consider later when the floor is opened to questions.
First, in light of where the debate has taken us thus far, would not the active championing of either the conservative or liberal camp by any political party immediately invite further polarization of the matter with even less prospect for consensus or tolerance?
Second, would it not invite politicization to divisive issues such that our political leaders and Members of Parliament start taking positions based on political expediency and majoritarianism rather than on conscience and strengthening our common space?
Thirdly, would it not cause voters to reduce the complex political and economic issues we face as country into this one singular issue and choose leaders based on their view on Section 377A? Do we want Section 377A to define the ballot box and determine elections?
One, FAMILY FIRST. This is what the WP MPs have been doing in Parliament. Our energies have been invested first and foremost into championing for policies and institutions that will shore up Singaporean families as they face the pressures of economic transformation and social change. We do it without prejudices. Thus, we care for the single, widowed and divorced mothers who have to bring up children in difficult circumstances, for women who have been caregivers for their parents and others for the large part of their lives and now need care themselves, for unmarried singles who continue or seek to continue to be part of loving families, for children that their best interests and welfare be put first when their parents are going through a divorce. And we must consider homosexual friends who are coming out and their family members who coming to terms with their sexuality too. Can they not be better supported if they face prejudice and depression? In the final reckoning, I would suggest that our definition of family, a wider Singapore family, should be an enlightened and inclusive one.
Two, NEVER POLITICISE THE ISSUE. This is what we have been doing by advising party members and party leaders to stay out of public campaigns by either side. We have not and will not turn Section 377A into a political issue by pandering either to conservatives or liberals. Electoral support for the WP based on Section 377A does not enter into our decisions to field specific candidates. Our candidates’ individual conscience about this issue is irrelevant in their selection as candidates. What matters is their integrity, credibility, ability and the depth of their concern for Singapore and Singaporeans. The converse is also true. We should immediately suspect those who try to label our MPs and candidates as anti-gay or pro-gay, anti-family or pro-family, and who campaign for or against WP on this basis. These people targeting WP are trying to politicize the LGBT issue and have a hidden political agenda to do so.
Three, CONTINUE THE DIALOGUE. Within the party, we do not disallow or discourage dialogues and debates across different levels and fora on this issue. But mutual respect has to represent the foundation of such conversations. There is a wide diversity of views among our members, but we are united by one thing, to not allow this one issue to derail our shared purpose of pushing for reforms to strengthen and equip Singaporeans to survive and thrive in the world of tomorrow.
Four, RESPECT INDIVIDUAL CONSCIENCE. The wide diversity of views among our members on this issue arises from individual conscience. Our members hold deep religious, spiritual and philosophical beliefs that form their individual conscience. It is this very sense of individual conscience that gave our members courage to drop their fears and acquire the mental strength to accept the sacrifices to join WP to serve Singaporeans. That is why we need to talk and listen to each other respectfully. We will seek to find common ground if there is common ground. If not, we will have to give each other the space to express our own deeply held beliefs and values, without prejudice and without prejudicing another’s right to express their views.
Fifth, RISE ABOVE THE CULTURE WAR. Culture wars were historically a European thing, when just a few centuries ago religious conflicts were commonplace until the European experience proved that the only way out from total destruction of society was the tolerance for different beliefs and the respect for individual conscience. This is a powerful lesson they learned and we cannot ignore it. In America, many communities are fighting each other over what each one thinks is right or evil, sin or truth. I think we should agree that we cannot let these culture wars represent the Singapore way. We should not fight over who is more right than the other – we should listen, discuss and debate with the suspicion that we may be wrong, and look for common ground to overcome our differences.
To conclude, the Workers’ Party is committed to strengthening our bonds as a society and one people and empowering Singaporeans to face the uncertain future of disruption and change.
We welcome people from all walks of life to join us to walk with Singapore – people with different views and opinions, all united by the cause of serving Singaporeans, who will continue to talk and listen to each other and make sure the centre holds. We know that people who drop their fears and make sacrifices to join us have a strong conscience giving them the courage to do so, and thus we respect each other’s individual conscience.
The Workers’ Party will not participate in the culture war over LGBT issues because this is prejudicial to the common good of our society. We seek to rise above it. Because the moral courage required to address the issue of Section 377A is not in reveling in the glory of taking absolute stances on what we believe is right, but in lowering ourselves, swallowing our pride and listening to another. If all of us do this, then one day we will get to that place where the uneasy compromise we see today transfigures into a unifying consensus marked by a tolerance and understanding befitting of the Singapore that respects both the public and private space, and a Singapore we all will be proud of leaving behind for the next generation.
Against LGBT equalityEdit
Muhamad Faisal Abdul ManapEdit
Workers' Party member of parliament (MP) Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap supports the Wear White campaign that opposes homosexuality and Pink Dot SG. Faisal, an MP in Aljunied GRC, said on 2 July 2014 that he backed the movement in his personal capacity "as a Muslim individual". Speaking to The Straits Times at his meet-the-people session in Bedok North, he said: "It has nothing to do with the party stand.",
His comments came in the wake of three photographs that week showing him wearing a white songkok (traditional headgear) and white jubah (ankle-length robe) alongside the Wear White campaign organisers and supporters at a mosque on the night of Saturday, 29 June 2014, the date of the Pink Dot gathering at Hong Lim Park. The photos, posted online, prompted talk about whether his stand represented the Workers' Party's position on homosexuality.
- Singapore political parties' politicians' views on homosexuality
- PAP MPs against the repeal of Section 377A
- PAP MPs for the repeal of Section 377A
- Singapore Democratic Party politicians' views on homosexuality
- Reform Party politicians' views on homosexuality
- National Solidarity Party politicians' views on homosexuality
- Democratic Progressive Party politicians' views on homosexuality
- Singapore political parties’ positions on LGBT concerns – General election 2011
- Archive of parliamentary debate on Section 377A (22, 23 October 2007)
- Pritam Singh, "One Singapore Family: Rising above the Culture War", Singapore 2025 blog, Wordpress, April 2019.
- Rachel Au-Yong, "Pritam: WP will not call for 377A to be repealed", The Straits Times, 6 April 2019.
- Martino Tan, "Pritam Singh on 377a: Workers’ Party would not be calling for its repeal", Mothership, 5 April 2015.
This article was written by Roy Tan.