On Section 377A

In the past few years I have avoided writing about highly controversial issues, but this time I do have something to say. My opinions are personal and do not reflect that of my employer.

Over the past week, I have been approached by people on both sides of the argument to sign a petition either for or against a repeal of Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code, which makes it illegal for a man to have sex with another man.
As a Christian, I have been asked to add my voice to Keep Section 377A as it is. The website argues that it is the opinion of the majority of Singaporeans, who are still conservative and want to retain family values. I do think most Singaporeans are still conservative and in favour of keeping the law as it is, and hence the 9,000-odd names added so far are representative of public opinion. Homosexuality is also very explicitly not condoned in the Old Testament bible. Other related, major religions object to homosexual sex as well.
On the other hand, the gay people I know are not your average bunch of lechers that you may have read of in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the Old Testament bible. They aren’t masturbating in the streets or trying to rape or convert people. I concede that some may be involved in multiple relationships but I also know other friends with long-term partners.
The other popular argument I’ve seen is that Jesus himself never condemned gays, though the Apostle Paul did. I know Jesus ate with tax-collectors and was criticised for it, though he stood his ground. He came to heal the sick and not the healthy.
It is not in my authority to take it a step further and wonder if Jesus was on earth today, in human form, whether he would similarly dine with gays. My interpretation is that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. Section 377A of course clearly deals with the ‘sin’ and makes it a crime. However, it is very difficult to separate the inclination from the action. One tends to lead to the other, and this applies to straight people as well.
There is also the question of whether we should impose our own beliefs on other people who may not subscribe to them. On the other hand, my faith requires me to stand up for it. I agree that I should apply my faith in all the decisions I make. But what if my decision affects people who may not share the same religious beliefs?
And what about gay Christians? They’re caught in the middle. They are required to suppress their feelings for someone, and not have sex with them, and be expected to change their orientation. In a conservative society, it is difficult to seek help openly and under the present circumstances, more people will be lying (in both senses of the word) under the radar, suffering quietly. Surely there is a better way to address the underlying social issues.
Christians have to be very careful not to be overzealous to the point where we forget that we are sinners, too. It’s just that for this case, the focus is on one type of sin. For instance, there may be Christians who are in favour of retaining Section 377A, yet they don’t think twice about buying pirated VCDs. Isn’t that a form of theft, also one of the 10 Commandments? The response to that might be that one sin is worse than the other, but that is not the strongest argument – a sin is a sin; we all fall short of God’s glory.
We all have planks in our own eyes. It is quite possible that we too have coveted; we may even have hated people enough to think of murdering them though we never committed the act; we may have lusted for people we cannot have; we have certainly told a lie at least once in our lives, and I’m sure some of us have turned work, money or status into an idol. So who are we to judge others?
The response to this may be that while we ourselves are not perfect, we still have an obligation to hold up the moral order, especially where the rules are explicitly stated. There is some sense in this argument.
However, because I do not fully agree with either side, I cannot vote firmly for either one. It would be unfair. If I do make up my mind later, I will sign either petition but understand that I will have to live by this decision consistently. Overall, I am inclined to add my name to the petition to keep 377A as it is, but not for the exact reasons listed by the website. The petition closes today.
There is more to the issue than one single statute. Many other social problems have not been addressed. A homosexual is not born with the intention of becoming homosexual. Nobody is able to confirm or deny the possible causes, such as genetics or psychological factors. In which case, is it even the homosexual’s fault for being like that?
A polarisation of the debate, which is happening now, is not going to create greater understanding between both camps. In fact, those who may have previously empathised slightly with the other side may now feel less inclined to do so. For both sides it seems like an ‘us versus them’ situation, addressing only the symptoms and not the causes.
The only good thing coming out of this so far is that Singaporeans are playing a more active role in their society, and are speaking up for their beliefs. Hopefully we will become less apathetic towards other issues beyond bread and butter, as well.
[Note: This post was written with no intention to offend or hurt anybody. I am not a learned Christian scholar and am open to correction if there is evidence in the Bible that my views are contrary to it. Also, I haven’t read any specific blog posts on this at all, only learning about the debate through the newspapers and personal discussions. Do point me to websites you find will shed further light on this issue. Thanks.]
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  1. David Ould

    thanks for this, Vanessa. Wonder if it might add a few things?
    First, on what the Bible has to say I point out that the prohibitions in the New Testament are actually stronger than those in the Old – more than this, they speak to Gentiles like you and me. But beyond that, the question is really not homosexuality but sexuality in general and so a better question to ask is “how is sex intended to be used?” I argue here in this way and I think it’s worth a read, if only to show that there is a strong prescriptive case, not just proscriptive.
    The other question that you ask is whether we can impose upon others. We need to watch out for moralism and you also right note that we can sometimes raise one issue above another.
    Counter to this, however, I think a number of factors argue in favour of our intervention:
    1. Marriage is god-ordained for the whole of humanity as the best way. This gives us a mandate.
    2. As Christians we want to be saying “there is a better way – it’s not just about what is wrong but about what is good”. This is about promoting what is good for the country we both love, not just moralising.
    3. Homosexual behaviour is inherently harmful for the individuals involved. We are protecting people in the same way that we prohibit narcotics.
    Well done for tackling this. It’s interesting to watch how these debates are playing out – even in the 8 years that I’ve been in and out of Singapore there’s been a notable shift for which the government must take well-deserved credit.

  2. Sicarii

    Dear Van,
    David has put up both Biblical reference to the sin of homosexuality and reasons for standing up to ‘intervene’, so I shan’t add more here and go with “what he said”.
    However, I felt I should leave you a note to let you know that your piece was well-written and raised a few questions as well.
    God bless, and Shalom Aleichem.

  3. Kevin

    I’ve always felt that Penal Codes like Section 377A are more like an “insurance” should something go wrong. While we probably won’t see the government actively rounding up homosexuals, it does give us good fodder to think about in terms of what we perceive as a decent yet democratic society. As you’ve mentioned, it’s an exercise of the citizen’s sense of apathy towards his/her general populace. In this way, it’s also a way for the people to appreciating what every government goes through before making their case (popularist or pragmatist).

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