Posts Tagged ‘Section 377a’

Between pink and white

In News Reports on June 23, 2014 at 1:32 pm

How do you champion or promote a cause without being divisive? Anyway that was Muslim Affairs Minister Yacob Ibrahim’s advice to those on both sides of the LGBT divide. Although it can also apply to any kind of divide…

So if you are a nature-lover, how do you champion a cause to preserve  a green lung without alienating those who think trees should make way for public housing? Or if you are a pet lover, how do you convince those who don’t think dogs belong on trains? Or, more to the point, how to hold an LGBT celebration in public without bystanders looking askance? Hold it indoors?  

Causes are by themselves divisive, which is why they are so-called. You can’t champion a cause by keeping quiet. And if you don’t keep quiet, how do you make your case in such a way so as not to attract the epithet that you are being “divisive’’? Or to have someone use that seemingly derogatory phrase that you are “lobbying’’? Ooooh. Shades of Western liberal democracy with its lobby groups putting the Government machinery in gridlock status! We don’t want that!

 Dr Tan Cheng Bock, for example, thinks that Nominated MPs shouldn’t be allowed to air their “causes’’ in Parliament because that would make them “partisan’’. They must speak in the national interest, which apparently is not made up of different “causes’’.

If you have a “cause’’, you are probably a member of the “fringe’’, that outermost group who are at odds with mainstream sentiment, although who can really represent the mainstream is a moot question. Or is that the G, elected by people?

So confusing.

Does it all depend on whether the cause is deemed “good’’ or “bad’’ and for whom? Nobody can argue with the Small Kindness Movement or a campaign to respect the elderly. The cause, in other words, had better be, for want of a better word, bland.

So I am watching all the fuss about the upcoming Pink Dot event with much interest. I suppose the fact that it got bigger and bigger over the years was bound to provoke a response from non-LGBT elements. (Sheeesh. I had better be careful here to avoid being attacked from either side of the divide)  

So some Muslims want to wear white on the same weekend that gays are wearing pink. And a group of churches intend to do the same, more or less that same group who wanted to hold a Family Festival. Plenty of people and groups  are talking about it, with some trying to find a middle line between the white and the pink.

I wager that many are also just ambivalent or are unclear about how to view the issue. And they may not even want to articulate it if they do.


It is not fashionable to knock the LGBT group, and it sounds bigoted if you do. It might also expose your religious frailty if you condone it  and lead to attacks that you lack a moral/religious core.  

Well, methinks people are free to organise themselves, free to express their emotions so long as they do not hurt anyone, free to hold outdoor parties if they have the licence. There are laws that will police their action. If the problem is with words, there are also laws which protect social harmony including the new anti-harassment laws.

But clearly, the LGBT group is pushing itself forward with its constitutional challenges to the law. It is also strengthening in numbers. The Health Promotion Board’s health advisory on sexuality has complicated what had seemed like the G’s hands-off position on the subject (barring section 377A).

Now, we’re witnessing a pushback on the part of the conservatives who include both Muslims and Christians.

Frankly, we lack the rules of engagement to deal with this extremely emotive issue. Maybe the statements below will help stop the pot from boiling over:

For “conservatives’’…

I do not condone homosexuality (for whatever reason) but I do not think it’s right to vilify homosexuals or those who support them (for reasons which can include treating everybody as being able to hold an opinion or to live their life the way they please or being unwilling to pass judgment on others)

Neither will I condemn homosexuality openly nor use labels such as “irreligious’’ or “immoral’’ – even if I think so – to prevent fracturing society. But I will promote the traditional family unit as a counter-point. And that includes wearing white. 

 And on the other side….

I condone homosexuality (for whatever reason) but I will not vilify those who hold a different view, characterise them as bigots or ridicule their reasons for being against homosexuality, such as their religious beliefs. I will keep my thoughts private.

Neither will I promote homosexuality openly as I agree that most people in society are not ready and doing so will lead to society fracturing. But it does not mean I cannot wear pink to show my allegiance.

I’m sure there will plenty of people who disagree with my very simplistic formulation for peace between the camps.

There will always be arguments that will never be resolved such as “if you say you’re inclusive, you must include gays”” or “if you are pro-family, you should be anti-gay’’ or “only atheists support homosexuals’’ or “if everybody is equal before the law, why is one section tilted against gays’’ or “why is the G giving advice to gays at all?’’   

I am not even sure that there is a middle ground for the two extremes to meet. Consensus will probably appear in only a generation or two. In fact, the phrase that both sides can use most usefully on the other is “Please, don’t get in my face. Not now.’’  


Better in jail than dead or Better dead than in jail?

In News Reports, Politics, Society on February 23, 2013 at 12:26 am

An interesting discussion has been taking place in the Voices pages of Today. It concerns the de-criminalisation of, not the infamous Section 377A, but Section 309 of the Penal Code. This punishes those who attempt suicide with a year’s jail or a fine.

There is something similar between the two sections. They are rarely enforced. The reason for not throwing an already suicidal person in jail is so as to not aggravate the person’s emotional state. I suppose you can’t tell what such a disturbed person might resort to if imprisoned.

But representatives of two groups, Aware and Silver Ribbon, have written to talk about a woman who was jailed after repeated suicide attempts. They did not elaborate on the case. They released some figures: From 2010 to 2011, the suicide mortality rate doubled among those aged 65 to 74 and those aged 85 and above. From 2008 to 2009, suicide among those aged 10 to 29 rose by 40 per cent, increasing from 64 to 91 deaths.

For every suicide death, there are seven suicide attempts. Arrests for attempted suicide have increased, from 706 in 2007 to 986 last year. Gosh! Now these figures I didn’t know. I believe Singapore’s suicide numbers are like one a day. So times seven…

They acknowledged that most arrests do not lead to charges, but argued that the arrest and investigation processes are traumatic enough for the individual and the family. Also, this sword hanging over their heads might actually deter the suicidal from seeking treatment or they would make sure they do the deed, hmm, properly. It’s a public health problem, not a criminal case, they argue.

The “relative infrequency of charges’’ reflects the “tacit understanding’’ that criminal law is the wrong tool for this problem, they said. As for the discretion given to police and magistrates to lay charges, the process iis “neither transparent nor reassuring’’ to those in distress.

You know what all this is leading up to: The section should be repealed.

Another letter-writer counter-argued, citing British law lord Patrick Devlin, He propounded that the legal enforcement of morality is necessary for the survival of society, which is constituted of ideas about how its members should behave. So if citizens are free to end their lives, society’s moral structure may crumble. Suicide then becomes not only an offence against an individual, but one against society.

“While there may be cogent reasons for decriminalising it, we should not view Section 309 of the Penal Code as nothing more than a law that penalises a person. Otherwise, we risk oversimplifying why criminal law is justified in our society.’’

He was joined by another letter-writer, who referred to what jurist A L P Hart said: That although people should be free to do as they please if they do not harm others, it is justifiable to criminalise certain acts to prevent people from making choices without adequate reflection or appreciation of the harm they may do to themselves. Examples of these laws include the mandatory use of motorcycle helmets or even the laws against drug abuse.

The letter-writer said that most cases of attempted suicides are referred to institutions for medical treatment, which makes it clear that the focus is on the medical, not the criminal aspects of the person’s failed attempt.

“Even so, the legislation itself meaningfully reflects our morality and how our society values life. Most of us do not attempt suicide, not because of the law but because we want to live. For a small segment of the population, the law deters and, in extreme cases, punishes. In this sense, it has instrumental value.’’
What are we to make of this discussion?

I dug up the case of the woman who was jailed. She is an 18 year old who received an eight-week jail sentence in November last year. She had tried to kill herself 13 times. The news report said that her family called the police after attempt No. 10 because they believed it was the only way to keep her safe.

She then spent 31/2 months remanded in custody before a judge placed her on a year’s probation, on condition that she sought treatment at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). Apparently, she wasn’t found suitable for a mandatory treatment order (reason not stated) but the judge was convinced she needed medical help.

Three days after she was released from remand, she tried to kill herself again, before going on to make two more attempts.) That’s how she got jail-time, for breaching probation and Section 309, among other things.

The young woman didn’t exactly serve the eight-week jail time, as her sentence was backdated. She went home after the judge admonished her to “get treatment’’. As far as the family was concerned, they wanted her to live, even if it meant calling the police on her.

If this was the case cited in the letter calling for Section 309 repeal…well, I think the circumstances are rather more complex than what the letter writers let on.

Notwithstanding the case, I suppose one issue is: why is it even in the books, if it’s not enforced, just like the other infamous section which I will not name. As for the argument that it’s in the books as a marker of society’s values, that has a familiar ring to it too.

Actually all I want to know is: How many individuals have been charged for attempting suicide over the years? How does the police decide whether to arrest someone, or let him/her go (a lot of people are probably let off given the high attempted suicide numbers). What is the investigation process that follows arrest like? How many are referred for medical treatment?

Some transparency would be good.

Missing in MSM

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 29, 2013 at 12:16 am

The Prime Minister said many things at the IPS Perspective Conference but somehow the MSM didn’t pick up the stuff that would have interested the online community. Okay, I have to be fair…I am talking about the ST.

Today picked up his point about Section 377a and how he seems to be leaning towards maintaining the status quo, that is, homosexual sex remains criminalised. I wonder why this wasn’t published in ST? Because the PM might have run foul of subjudice rules that the Attorney-General’s Chambers had just reminded everyone of? A protective measure? If so, Today didn’t get the message.

The PM didn’t unilaterally raise the topic, but was answering two questions that were very finely crafted in my opinion. First, was how a secular state could reconcile itself with having an old archaic law that discriminates against a group of people. The second, by NMP Janice Koh, was whether Singapore had the space to discuss issues that were potentially polarising. Looks like Section 377a is on the PM’s mind since he didn’t side-step the issue.

But, hey, I certainly hope the Judiciary will not be influenced by what the Executive has said on the issue, the top executive, some more! Methinks the PM should have held his peace, like all of us have been told to do.

Citing the example of gay rights, Mr Lee said: “These are not issues that we can settle one way or the other, and it’s really best for us just to leave them be, and just agree to disagree. I think that’s the way Singapore will be for a long time.”
He added that the “conservative roots” in society do not want to see the social landscape change.

Another point that has the online community buzzing but which I saw no sign of in MSM were his comments on new media: “We don’t believe the community in the social space, especially online, moderates itself. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.

“You have views going to extremes and when people respond to their views, they may respond in an extreme way, and when people decide to disapprove of something which was inappropriate, the disapproval can also happen in an extreme way.’’

“It’s in the nature of the medium, the way the interactions work and that’s the reason why we think it cannot be completely left by itself.”

I don’t know what the context of his comments were since this is a just a quote that has been going round online – and which I hope is accurate. For context, I usually rely on MSM given that they have paid professionals who would have known that context is important. But, hey, they’ve left it out entirely! How can?

You can bet that the online community is buzzing about an upcoming clampdown… An online naming law?

Gag yourselves!

In News Reports, Politics on January 22, 2013 at 11:59 pm

How could I have forgotten about the all-powerful “subjudice’’ ban on speaking about stuff that’s before the court? So the Attorney-General’s Chambers have joined the 377A fray by telling everyone on all sides to shut up and sit down. My question: What took it so long?

Then again, if a court challenge on the criminalisation of homosexual sex had not been mounted, we wouldn’t know the depth and extent of some people’s feelings about calls for its repeal – on both sides of the fence.

So now all eyes will be on the two cases before the court coming up pretty soon. MSM didn’t give exact dates – they should since they will be closely-watched. I suppose the judges (MSM didn’t say who) will be delving into the dusty old books methinks to find out what is the intent of Parliament when this law was put in the books.

Law Minister K Shanmugam has met the church representatives, according to Today. I wonder if this was to deliver the “gag’’ order. How I would love to know what else was said besides his comments that they delivered their position with “considerable conviction’’ in a “frank discussion’’. I’m sure the Law Minister is savvy enough to able to give some insights without getting himself into subjudice trouble. So what about another Facebook posting Mr Shanmugam?

In any case, however the court rules, it seems to me that this isn’t a “legal’’ problem, but a political one. And the discussion will be re-started, free of any subjudice clauses. What will happen then?