YANG Tuck Yoong, senior pastor of Singapore’s Community Church, earlier this year expressed outrage over a promotional video released by Pink Dot SG – a non-profit LGBT organisation – featuring lesbian pastor Pauline Ong, right, of the Free Community Church.
The video infuriated Yoong, who said in a blog post that it is “deceptive for untaught people watching it. Let me put it in simple and unambiguous terms: A homosexual Christian is an oxymoron. You cannot live a lifestyle that the Bible condemns and say you’re a believer in Jesus Christ at the same time.”
He said that the “deceptive” claims in the video “were purposely used as a strategy” by Pink Dot SG to advocate for cultural acceptance and normalisation of non-heterosexual orientations and relationships.
“They say ‘we’re Christians too and this is what we believe’. But please read your Bible and don’t misquote it. I assure you that a practicing homosexual will not see the insides of heaven if they continue down this path.”
The bigot blathered on: “Any attempt to change God’s definition of what constitutes a true marriage will lead to a disastrous path of fatherless-ness or motherless-ness, and we’re now witnessing the fruit of this malady in our generation.”
Despite views expressed by bigots like Yoong, and the fact that homosexuality remains illegal in Singapore, the Pink Dot SG has been gaining in strength.
It began staging annual gatherings in Hong Lim Park in 2009. In its first year, the event attracted just 2,500 participants. But by 2015 this number had swollen to an astonishing 28,000, and attracted nine corporate sponsors.
This year’s Pink Dot SG event, its biggest ever, took place on June 4 and saw the number of sponsors double to 18. The included Barclays, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, BP, Bloomberg, Twitter, Apple, Facebook, General Electric, Microsoft and Visa. In the days leading up to the Pink Dot SG event Bloomberg and NBC Universal released powerful videos in support of the gathering. This, said the organisers, “marks the increasing recognition that the embracing of discrimination-free working environments goes hand-in-hand with sound business strategy.”
Yet, sadly, Singapore remains wedded to Section 377A of the Penal Code, the law that criminalises sex between men.
According to StraitsTimes, in 2014, the highest court in Singapore upheld the law, ruling that the provision was constitutional. The three-judge Court of Appeal rejected two separate challenges to strike down the law.
Gay couple Gary Lim, 46, and Kenneth Chee, 38, as well as 51-year-old Tan Eng Hong, asserted that the provision was discriminatory and should be declared void by the court.
Their argument was that Section 377A infringes their right to equal protection under the law, as guaranteed by Article 12 of the Constitution, and violates their right to life and liberty, as guaranteed by Article 9.
Contravention of Section 377A carries up to a two-year jail term for men who, in public or private, commit acts of “gross indecency” with other men. Tan was the first to file a challenge against the statute in 2010 after he was charged with having oral sex with another man in a public toilet. Lim and Chee later filed their own challenge. Their cases were separately heard – and dismissed – by High Court Judge Quentin Loh. Their appeals were heard together in July of 2014.
In a 101-page written judgment delivered by Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, the apex court rejected their arguments.
The court held that Section 377A did not violate Article 9 as the phrase “life and liberty” referred only to the personal liberty of a person from unlawful incarceration and not to the right of privacy and personal autonomy.
As for Article 12, the court held that Section 377A passed a classification test used by the courts in determining whether a law complies with the constitutional right of equality.
The court also ruled that Section 377A fell outside the scope of Article 12, which forbids discrimination of citizens on grounds including religion, race and place of birth. The court observed that Article 12 did not contain the words “gender”, “sex” and “sexual orientation”, which related to Section 377A.
The court added that many of the arguments canvassed in the case involved “extra-legal considerations and matters of social policy outside the remit of the court”. It stressed that it can only consider legal arguments; taking on legislative functions would “efface” the very separation of powers which gives the court its legitimacy in the first place.
“Whilst we understand the deeply-held personal feelings of the appellants, there is nothing that this court can do to assist them. Their remedy lies, if at all, in the legislative sphere,” said the court.
Activist lawyer M Ravi, who acted for Tan, called the decision a “huge step backwards for human rights in Singapore”. He said it was “disturbing” that the court has “thrown this issue back to Parliament”.
OutRight Action International reported that an unsuccessful attempt to have Section 377A scrapped had been made by Siew Kum Hong, a Member of Parliament who sponsored a public petition to repeal the provision. He ultimately delivered 2,341 signatures to Parliament. Siew noted that the signatories came from a broad cross-section of Singaporeans – middle-aged, old, young, students, professionals, religious and non-religious people – all of whom believed that repealing 377A was not so much about sexual rights or gay rights but about anti-discrimination, fairness and justice.
Or, as MP Charles Chong put it: “If it’s true that some of us are indeed born with a different sexual orientation then it would be wrong of us to criminalise and persecute people who do no harm to us, no matter how conservative a society we are. Intimate relationships between consenting adults in the privacy of one’s bedroom are not the business of government.”
Arguments against the repeal of Article 377A raised the spectres of same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption. One opposing MP, Lim Biow Chuan, implied that homosexuals are not a legitimate minority community in Singapore like racial or religious minorities because there is “no conclusive evidence that homosexuality is inborn.”
Another opponent, Ms Thio Li Ann argued that, “demands for homosexual rights are political claims of a narrow interest group masquerading as legal entitlements.” She added: “Homosexual activists try to infiltrate and highjack the noble cause of human rights. You cannot make a human wrong a human right.”
Thio warned that unlike heterosexual sodomy, “sodomy between homosexuals is not a private act without public consequences and it’s not a victimless crime because oral and anal sex spread HIV and AIDS . . . Anal penetrative sex is inherently damaging to the body and is a misuse of organs.”