S377A: Just a sin, not a crime?

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Sarah Rice—Getty Images

When arguing about the morality of S377A in Singapore law, highlighting the arguments on its benefits or harms to the state may help us see things clearly.

Here are some of the main arguments for repealing S377A:

  1. It discriminates against a class of people.
  2. It violates certain people’s rights to life and liberty.
  3. It criminalizes people for non-harmful private acts.
  4. It is not immoral in a non-religious context.
  5. It causes mental health issues to LGBTQ+ individuals.

Here are some responses to these arguments:

1. S377A discriminates against a class of people.

All criminal law is meant to discriminate the acts of individuals. This is the principle of differentiation between two unlike acts. Discrimination is unjust. Differentiation is just.

The issue arises when people feel that they are labelled as criminals because S377A criminalizes the act of a man having sex with another man. In that way, it is perceived as discriminatory.

However, the law does not actually single out any class of people. This is often an important nuance lost in online chatter. It was originally part of the statute to differentiate against sexual acts that are unnatural or “against the order of nature”.

I think it is important to ask if this statute benefits or harms Singapore. I believe it is in the state’s interest to discourage unnatural sexual acts for several reasons.

Firstly, it is biologically unnatural. This is an objective and unchanging fact. The anus is not intended to be penetrated. Misuse of the anus carries with it a high potential for causing bodily harm and carries an increased risk of spreading diseases.

Secondly, it objectivises sexual acts and obfuscates sex’s reproductive purpose by making it purely for personal satisfaction. This decouples the act of sex from reproduction and negatively impacts the state by entrenching a pleasure-centric notion of sex to the exclusion of conceiving (pun intended) sex with reproductive purposes in mind to advance state interests.

Thirdly, legitimating one form of unnatural sexual activity invites the possible exploration of other unnatural sexual activities, further eroding the benefits of natural sexual relations for the state.

The law differentiates sexual behaviour for the state’s benefit, not because it is against certain people. Suppose a colony of nudists decides to make Singapore their home. Singapore’s law against nudity does not discriminate against the members of the colony, but the act of being nude, which is deemed to do its citizens more harm than good. It has no bearing on the person’s beliefs or identity.

2. S377A violates certain people’s rights to life and liberty.

It is important to understand the basic human right to life and personal liberty.

The first, the right to life, is the belief that a being has the right to live, and not to be killed by another.

The second, the right to liberty, is where much contestation exists. Depending on where you stand, the right to liberty can mean different things.

On one extreme, it may mean the freedom to choose only within the context of the law (legalism), and on the other extreme, it may mean the freedom to choose regardless of any law, even the law of nature (anarchy).

People leaning towards liberalism believe they should maximize their freedom of choice as long as it does not encroach on the personal liberties of others. This would mean that people should have the right to choose, even if it means going outside of the bounds of the laws of nature.

But this conflates liberalist ideas of freedom with basic human rights to personal liberty. Liberalism imports too much into, and makes demands on “personal liberty” that go beyond the scope of natural rights to personal liberty. The purpose of human rights is the preservation of human justice, respect, and dignity. Hence, human rights to personal liberty should be limited to such a purpose. To go beyond this would be to impose liberalistic interpretations upon the ideas of natural rights.

Natural rights involve freedom from oppression, injustice, and prejudice. S377A does not allow the killing of a person. Neither does it advocate oppression, injustice, or prejudice against any person or class of people. It is agnostic of the person and is only prejudicial of the action that violates the law of nature. Hence, S377A does not violate people’s rights to life and liberty.

3. S377A criminalises people for non-harmful private acts.

It is often emphasized that S377A criminalizes people for actions that are harmless and private.

But is homosexuality really harmless?

First, acts have public repercussions. It should not be framed to appear like men having sex with men is just a private matter.

Monkeypox is now spreading quickly amongst the homosexual community due to the high level of sexual promiscuity within that community. The disease can eventually spread to other people, like the men’s heterosexual partners and other close contacts, and may result in a wider public health emergency.

This is just one example of why the law should be interested in the private activities of people especially if it can result in major public consequences.

Second, anal sex is a high-risk sexual activity. Men engaged in this can bring harm to themselves even if it is done in private. It is like how the law criminalizes self-harm and drug abuse, both of which can be done in private and may not hurt others immediately but have serious negative externalities.

Such actions can not only bring harm to themselves but also to others by extension. It is in the nation’s interest to have the law indicate that such activities are not condoned because of their harmful nature, both to the self and to the community.

Third, there are those who suffer psychological trauma from childhood sexual abuse that may manifest itself in engagement in homosexual behaviour. For instance, multiple studies over several decades have shown that men identifying as homosexual are more likely than heterosexual men to have been abused by a man in their childhood and adolescence. This is not to say that childhood sexual abuse is at the root of all same-sex attraction. Still, the statistical correlates remain and require an answer.

If S377A is repealed, however, public perception will eventually grow to accept homosexual sex as normative. In such a scenario, men who experience same-sex attraction as a result of the psychological impact of rape, abuse or trauma would not be able to see their same-sex attraction as symptomatic of deeper issues arising from those harmful experiences since their attractions are paradigmatically considered “natural”.

In other words, the cognitive normalization of homosexual behaviour through repeal may obfuscate the roots of maladaptive sexual attraction, exploration, and behaviour in adulthood since people may no longer recognize same-sex attraction as a symptom of some deeper psychological trauma that needs to be addressed.

4. Homosexuality is not immoral in a non-religious context.

LGBTQ+ advocates often try to frame the objections from religious groups as being on religious moral grounds. This argument tries to separate religious and secular moralities and gives the impression that religious morality is only grounded in blind faith in religious beliefs.

This attempt to bifurcate moralities fails on two counts.

First, it does not consider that religious morality is actually beneficial to communities that abide by it. In other words, moral frameworks have public advantages regardless of belief.

Second, morality is not confined to the religious context. All law legislates morality. Secular thinking also includes moral principles that are based on the agreement of what is right or wrong for the good of the community.

Our government has always adopted moral codes to ensure that there is an ethical standard for how it operates and governs the country. Whether it is from religious or secular ethics, one should focus on outcomes—the moral implications of retaining or repealing S377A based on the impact it has on the community.

The implications are the confusion of natural sexual activities, the normalization of psychological issues, the increased risk of diseases, the objectivising of sexual acts, and the opening of doors to the exploration of other unnatural sexual activities. These all bring negative impacts to our community, and so, men having sex with other men should be seen as immoral in a secular context because of its harmful impacts, regardless of religious fiat.

5. S377A causes mental health issues to LGBTQ+ individuals.

It is interesting that one would think that having a law that criminalises men having sex with men should cause mental health issues.

The fact is that there are many people who engage in activities that would deem them criminals that would not affect their mental state.

Consider the following: Selling gum, playing an instrument in public without a license, flying a kite near the airport, singing songs in public with obscene lyrics, distributing obscene material, connecting to someone else’s wifi, walking nude in your own home, and jaywalking, all carry a fine or jail term or both in Singapore, making the offenders criminals.

A number of these laws are either difficult to enforce or are not enforced, but people don’t suffer mental illness from being labelled criminals when they jaywalk or play the guitar in public.

However, we can acknowledge two mental health issues that are related to the LGBTQ+ community. The first is the reality of homophobia resulting in disrespectful, unjust and prejudiced treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals. The presence of homophobia deepens the mistrust between those who are for and against S377A.

The second is the mental health issues resulting from unnatural sexual relations that becomes naturalized by the gay advocates. Both these mental health issues are a result of the unnatural sexual acts between men, and not a result of S377A.

As of now, the claim that S377A causes mental health issues is simply an assertion by the gay activists, and is without basis or evidence.

Cumulatively, these arguments go to show that the gay agenda is to subvert public decency, logical and critical thinking and the rule of law through emotional manipulation, media bombardment, political pressure and commercial blackmail.

We don’t stay neutral by being quiet.

We are not loving by giving up. We are not aggressive by drawing a line.

We should protect S377A because it protects all Singaporeans, which includes the LGBTQ+ community and those who are seeking to repeal it.

Terrence is a software architect and a father.

This is an invited opinion piece. The opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to have your work featured on Regardless, please write to us at [email protected]

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