Sunday, 21st October '07

S. 377A - Probably About Time I Got a Word In

It's only a couple more days till NMP Mr Siew Kum Hong makes his Parliamentary submission, petitioning the gahmen to repeal s. 377A Penal Code.

I don't know how many persons actually have gone and read the section, but here it is. In the interests of lawyerly accuracy, anyway:

Outrages on decency.
377A. 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.

The general interpretation is that it basically bans gay men from consensual sexual intercourse.

So my question now is this: SHOULD it be repealed?

From a basic-human-decency standpoint, the answer (to me) anyway is blindingly obvious. OF COURSE it should be repealed, for the love of Pete. Let me count the ways it's discriminatory: it discriminates against gay men by disallowing them from performing a perfectly legitimate act. It further belittles them by calling that legitimate act a "gross indecency". And it discriminates against them as men, to begin with, since this section doesn't make the same act amidst women illegal. Add to that the whole idea of equality and human rights, and you just get a picture that doesn't add up.

Apart from getting outraged at the unfairness of it all, it pretty much makes a joke out of us as a country. I distinctly remember sitting around the Halifax YMCA's dubious TV room in 2006, and the German Sönke saying, "You Singaporeans are so uptight, I bet you even try to regulate the way people have sex." And he totally meant it as a joke... you know, like he didn't actually believe we would do that, like he was just bring it up as a yardstick for out of this world control-freakishness.

We had a pretty good laugh when I told him we actually did. Once he stopped spluttering in surprise.

Neither is the slippery slope argument of "if we repeal s. 377A today, tomorrow we'll be having gay marriages, and the day after that we'll be rending the fabric of society to shreds" convincing. There's this sort of idea that if Singapore just so much as stops being loudly against a gay lifestyle, we're going to turn into the next Amsterdam and next thing you know there'll be effeminate men in S&M outfits roaming the heartlands. Absurd, much? It's not as if you can make a gay man straight just be telling him not to be gay. And just so we're clear, gay ≠ prostitute, gay ≠ promiscuous boy.

Nor does the "it's there but we won't prosecute anyone" ditty cut it. That's all so beside the point. Prosecution is one thing. Just leaving it there creating the mere illegality is already egregious.

And while we're going along this vein, this article, "Straight Thoughts on 377A" is a good summary of thoughts to ponder.

That said, I'm not the most PC person around. I've been guilty of calling something I dislike "so gay" at some point, and making stereotypical remarks that if a guy waxes his chest he cannot be into girls. But when you get to the fundamentals of it, yes the little jokes and digs are bad, but they remain only jokes and digs. I don't think they matter as long as at the end of the day you know what's what. It doesn't go as far as telling gay men they're wrong for being what they are, which is effectively what s. 377A does.

But what I think strikes me about this whole affair is how it's divided our population into two very distinct groups. There are the people I hang out with, essentially the lawyers and dancers and people like that, who IMMEDIATELY see what a ridiculous provision s. 377A is. And then there are the people like Dad who remain adamant that s. 377A is there to save the world from pending destruction.

We had this debate in the car the other day, and I got so frustrated that I sort of left it hanging with "you just don't get it". And therein lies the rub - that's what makes the question so difficult to deal with. If it were as simple as "all those who want to keep s. 377A are self-righteous bigots", then I'd know exactly what the answer would be. The problem is, the people who would like to keep s. 377A aren't BAD EVIL PEOPLE intent on oppressing the segment of our population which chooses an alternative livestyle. They're just people who honestly, caringly believe that no-gay-sex is the best thing for the country and perhaps the world in general. They will not be bad to gay men in the sense of passing them over for job opportunities, or treating them with any less respect as people. But they do think that the law needs to somehow save gay men from themselves.

What they don't realise is gay men don't need saving.

And while I admit, this is potentially the worst form of bigotry ever ("unconscious bigotry", let's call it), it's something that maybe for now just sort of have to accept isn't going to change. See, it's not as if they're unaware that gays are human too, and that this section exists and has this effect. So the Dim Sum Dollies can keep chanting their little ditty (and I will continue to applaud their efforts), but I don't have much of a hope it's going to change anything. I suppose it's a democracy after all, and as long as there are more people that think s. 377A is right than those who think it is wrong, then as a matter of politics, it's going to stay right where it is until the judiciary rules it inconsistent with the Constitution.

Which is, frankly, the only way I can see s. 377A being struck out.

But what are the odds of that ever happening?

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