In a previous piece, we examined the legislative environment around S377A to uncover why the status quo was worth disrupting. We came up short. In our view, there was no apparent judicial reason why 377A needed to be moved upon considering the equilibrium it finds itself in.
Yet, perhaps there is a political reason why 377A is worth moving on, and in this piece, we examine a few possibilities.
PERHAPS IT’S THE OPTIMAL TIME FOR A POLITICAL PACKAGE
There is a strategic opportunity to move on S377A despite the prevailing strong pro-retain sentiment. The best way forward may manifest in an attempt to secure what is valuable and trade on what is expendable before it is too late.
Younger Singaporeans have been raised on pro-LGBT Western media and are largely supportive of the LGBT movement. This trend does not see any abating as long as Singapore continues to be a cultural price-taker from the West. It would seem that to be able to pass through pro-family amendments in conjunction with an amendment to, or repeal of S377A, would require moving on the issue before the demographics shift liberal.
Thus, in the interest of front-running the possibility of a liberal parliament or populace, it would make sense to pass legislation that secures foundational values around Marriage and Family before such a move would be impracticable.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether a negotiated political package would be durable enough to withstand a potential reversal on pro-family values from a liberal population. If not, why bother with moving on the law to begin with?
PERHAPS THE 3G TRYING TO TAKE A HOT POTATO OFF 4G’s HANDS
Another reason why the repeal could happen soon is that the PAP’s present leadership may seek to deal with the challenge of S377A before transferring power to the 4G leadership as a matter of responsible leadership and so as to keep the hands of the 4G clean.
Perhaps the PAP believes that the electoral success of the 4G depends on resolving this issue about 2 years prior to the elections of 2024/2025 so that the intervening time will have a cooling effect on the disquiet created by the decision.
Yet, dealing with the issue now is no guarantee of cooling the issue. Indeed, disgruntled social conservatives may very well remember what they see as a betrayal of values at the polls. Likewise, any move or repeal of S377A could backfire and instead of cooling the issue, super-heat it because, after the repeal of S377A, it only makes tactical sense for Singapore’s LGBT Activists to train their sites on Gay Marriage and Gay Adoption, and make them election issues.
PERHAPS SINGAPORE IS BEING PRESSURED BY FOREIGN POWERS AND BASIC ECONOMICS
As a state which is dependent upon foreign investment, Singapore’s international reputation can be hung over her head like a Damocles sword. Already, international fora and media interviews see Singapore politicians regularly pressed on S377A, just as DPM Lawrence Wong was in his interview with Bloomberg just this week, and Ambassador Chan Heng Chee was at the Universal Periodic Review in 2021.
Beyond that is the issue of foreign pressure from superpower trading partners such as the US, which has for two presidential administrations now as a matter of foreign policy, lobbied for LGBT rights and tied US security and economic partnerships to decriminalisation and the conference of other rights. Even though this is currently US foreign policy, it is unknown if the ideological commitments of Western nations manifested in Foreign Policy are partly responsible for Singapore’s reconsideration of S377A.
Some might argue that Singapore has stood its ground despite being critiqued on the Mandatory Death Penalty by international media and foreign governments, and that there is little that is preventing us from doing the same with sodomy. This misunderstands the nature of the challenge, since there are no countries that tie diplomatic, economic or military relationships to the repeal of the death penalty in Singapore.
Private companies from Western Nations with ideological commitments apply pressure to Singapore as well. As an investment-dependant nation, Singapore wants the jobs provided by these MNCs and needs to maintain its image as a progressive metropolis on the world stage. It is not implausible that the need to be found in compliance with corporate diversity demands is also driving this review.
Thus, on a cost analysis level, it would seem logical to repeal S377A when the international economic and diplomatic costs of retaining S377A outweigh the domestic utility of retaining the statute.
PERHAPS BECAUSE THIS IS NO LONGER A LIVE ISSUE IN THE COURTS
Perhaps most counterintuitively of all, Singapore might have decided to review S377A precisely because there is an open window where there are no live or pending constitutional challenges to the statute. The fact is that the courts have finally placed the fate of S377A firmly in the court of parliament. This particular window now gives the government the ability, and legitimacy to move on S377A while avoiding any claims of meddling in the judicial process or front-running a potentially valid constitutional challenge.
It seems clear given the multiple press statements, interviews, and online chatter, that the review of S377A is going to find its conclusion in short order. Traditionally, there have been pre-requisites which give a hint as to when the government should move on an issue. But S377A is not a traditional issue, and as we’ve discussed, there are multiple countervailing factors at play.
Regardless of whether a repeal is announced as soon as the National Day Rally and pushed through parliament in September and October, or whether decisions are made further down the line, what is imperative is that society is safeguarded, from the consequence of a shift in the law, and that Singapore finds its unity in a transcendent identity beyond sexuality or religion.