I was thinking about how recently in the United States, the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 (Prop 8) were both declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. What this means is that same-sex married couples can officially be recognised as ‘spouses’ in the eyes of the law and be eligible for federal marriage benefits, and that people in California can now legally marry.
There is a very distinct separation of between the government and the courts in the United States. This allows the courts to strike down laws set up by governments that apparently do not reflect the will of its people (the Constitution). Unfortunately that is not quite the case in Singapore.
Even though Singapore has a constitution, the Constitution does not seem to be supreme. It is of popular opinion that the government and the courts are one and the same. Even Wikipedia has noted that parliamentary sovereignty is the de facto characterisation of the legal system in the country. As such, the will of the parliament is often the will of the law, it seems.
In Singapore, under its penal code, there is a statute, Section 377, that criminalises sex “against the order of nature.” Its subsection 377A states that any male person who, in public or private, commits against any male person any act of gross indecency shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years. This effectively makes homosexual sex illegal.
Section 377 was repealed on October 2007, but its subsection 377A was retained. On the decision, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “Singapore is basically a conservative society…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.”
Decriminalising homosexual sex is not going to break up families. Not that we’re even debating on the same stage of same-sex marriage as in the United States, but cracked.com has helpfully outlined how legalising gay marriage affects society (hint: it does not affect you in any way). Decriminalising homosexual sex is not going to cause heterosexual or homosexual couples to suddenly want to commit bestiality, or any of the slippery-slope arguments pitched by proponents of the legislation.
If the government wishes to focus on the family as it claims, why can’t having two mothers or two fathers make a good family? Surely they are just as good as any mother-father pair family, or single-parent family? There are tons of research that show that same-sex parents families do just as well, if not better, than different-sex parents. I would think that having two parents would provide for the children better than a family on just one income. If the government is so concerned about “family units,” then perhaps they should consider making adoption legal for homosexual couples, and allow them tax and national benefits as well.
If the focus is that it is the will of the people not to accept homosexuality because they are conservative, even if the government were to decriminalise homosexual acts of sex, it is not going to stop the homophobia that permeates the country. Repealing 377a is not going to stop the cries of “bapok” and “ah gua” on the streets, just as outlawing racism in Singapore is not going to stop the mutual jeerings of “ah pu neh neh” and “munjen” in the neighbourhood.
But at least we can offer equal protection to everyone, regardless of sexuality, from persecution from the law.
Never mind that the community is conservative, never mind that the majority have yet to accept homosexuals as social equals, but at least decriminalising homosexual acts of sex would be one less guillotine hanging over their heads.
What is the purpose of the government? If the government says it is there to reflect the views of the people it serves, then, well, the seething dissent from the masses these days from unpopular bills such as the move to regulate internet news is the exact opposite of representing its population.
If the government is there to lead by example, why couldn’t the government lead by example on this front, and set a precedent for reducing victimisation of its own people?
There is a disconnect between some laws of the land and its people; just because things are law doesn’t necessarily mean that the mindsets of people will automatically change. The outlawing of secret societies did not magically make people stop subscribing to the ideas that gangs offer protection and fear; it merely drove them underground. It was the eventual modernisation and improvements to policing that left all but a handful still loyal to the idea of organised brotherhood. Singaporeans are slowly accepting homosexuality more are more, regardless of whether the law decrees it or not.
So the courts might as well do the right thing, and the set the go-ahead for love without fear of persecution.