ST: Homosexual acts: No change in actual Indian law

6 July 2009
Straits Times

Homosexual acts: No change in actual Indian law 

By Sue-Ann Chia 

EVEN though the Delhi High Court has ruled that an Indian law outlawing homosexual acts is unconstitutional, the actual law itself has not changed, Law Minister K. Shanmugam pointed out yesterday.

‘It is a court-interpreted decision. It wasn’t a change of the law by the government,’ he explained at a dialogue with Punggol Central residents.

He was responding to a question from grassroots leader Khartini Khalid on whether a similar Singapore law – Section 377A of the Penal Code – would be repealed following India’s move.

‘Whether our courts will take a similar interpretation, I don’t know. It is not our position to tell the courts what to do,’ he said.

Noting that the Singapore Government’s position on homosexuality had been made clear by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the parliamentary debate on this issue in 2007, he said: ‘We won’t change the law, but how that is interpreted is up to the courts.’

Singapore has not repealed this law despite appeals from some quarters to do so, as the Government ‘cannot move ahead of public opinion’, he said.

This is because while the Government has to ‘set the standard and take the lead’ in many other areas, there remain areas where it has to ‘be careful of being ahead of public opinion’, he explained.

Sexuality and personal issues are some areas where the Government prefers to defer to public opinion.

He said while there are groups lobbying for homosexuality to be decriminalised, there are also many Singaporeans who say the practice is ‘totally not acceptable’.

‘The Government has to respect both sides,’ he said.

He conceded that the current situation – in which the law against homosexuality is in place but is not strictly enforced – ‘is a little bit messy’.

‘We have to accept a bit of messiness. The way society is going, we don’t think it will be fair to prosecute people who say that they are homosexuals.

‘But at this time, our society is not ready for us to say we will pass legislations which say homosexuality is no longer an offence,’ he said.

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