SINGAPORE - The Government is considering how best to balance ground feedback that gay sex should not be criminalised with the desire for Singapore's current position on marriage to be retained.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday (July 30), Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said the Government has had extensive discussions with different people on Section 377A of the Penal Code.
Under this section, it is a crime for a man, whether in public or in private, to commit any act of "gross indecency" with another man, and carries a jail term of up to two years. But the law is not actively enforced and it is a position that has been reiterated by the authorities since it was discussed robustly in Parliament in 2007.
Mr Shanmugam said the discussions have included religious leaders such as Taoists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus, grassroots leaders, Singaporeans from different backgrounds, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) groups, and others.
"Many agree that men who have sex with each other should not be thrown into prison. Gay sex should not be criminalised," he said.
"At the same time, most do not want any decriminalisation to cause other major changes. In particular, most people want the current position on marriage to be retained."
The current position is that the law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. "People don't want that to change," he said.
People also do not want any change to the current policies that take reference from this definition of marriage, he said.
"The Government understands this view. We are now considering how best to achieve this balance," he said.
"The two questions we are dealing with are therefore: one, what is to be done with 377A; and two, at the same time, we are also considering how we can safeguard the current legal position on marriage from legal challenges in Courts so that it does not get challenged in the Courts, like 377A was in a series of cases," he said.
He added: "These matters ought to be discussed in Parliament, and decided in Parliament, and not decided in the Courts."
Speaking to reporters at the Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre on the sidelines of community events, Mr Shanmugam also urged people here to avoid taking extreme positions on the issue, and to work out differences calmly for the sake of the country.
There have been several legal challenges mounted against Section 377A, though they have been unsuccessful.
In February this year, the Court of Appeal through a five-judge panel, dismissed challenges brought by three men who argued that Section 377A should be struck down. It ruled that Section 377A will stay on the books but cannot be used to prosecute men for having gay sex.
Mr Shanmugam was also asked about a recent town hall that called for Section 377A to remain on the books until there are guarantees to protect the traditional definition of marriage and family.
Last Saturday (July 23), about 1,200 people, including Christian and Muslim leaders, took part in the event, called "Protect Singapore Townhall".
Held at the Singapore Expo convention centre, the town hall was organised by Mr Jason Wong and Mr Mohamed Khair Mohamed Noor. The pair argued that retaining Section 377A of Singapore's penal code was needed to protect families, the institution of marriage, children and freedom.
Mr Wong is a former board member and chairman of Christian organisation Focus on the Family, while Mr Khair is executive chairman of SuChi Success Initiatives, which runs marriage preparation courses for Muslim couples and other training programmes.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Monday that police reports had been lodged relating to the town hall but it will not be taking any action against the organisers as there was no criminal offence disclosed.
The LGBT community here has also been vocal in its bid to repeal 377A, with the most high-profile event being the annual Pink Dot SG rally.
This year's rally — the 14th edition since 2009 — was held in June where participants were called on to envision what an inclusive Singapore would look like for them, and to speak up for the change they want to see in Singapore.
Mr Shanmugam urged moderation from both sides and "to avoid extreme positions and demands".
He said these events illustrate what the Government has been saying for a long time: that if one side pushes too hard, then there will be pushback.
"We have seen this happen in many countries. If it happens here in Singapore, and we are a very small place, the ruptures will tear our social fabric apart, cause a lot of harm," he said.
This is why the Government has been advocating moderation, moving carefully, and not to push positions which can damage society, he added.
"Passions can run high, people genuinely believe in one or another view with great intensity. We have to try and deal with issues with an open mind, open heart. Avoid extreme positions and avoid extreme demands," said Mr Shanmugam.
"Move forward and try and be united, work on our differences in a calm way, for the sake of Singapore."