a community of singaporeans

Decriminalising homosexuality in Singapore

Posted by theonlinecitizen on May 3, 2007

By Koh Jie Kai

The purpose of this letter is to address two arguments which homophobes frequently make against decriminalising homosexuality in Singapore. Let’s take a typical example of a homophobic point of view, written by a Mr Jonathan Cheng and published in the Straits Times forum page on the 1st of May 2007. (“MM’s comments have me and family worried).

Odd that Mr Cheng should accuse homosexuals of being intolerant, given that his vision of Singapore society clearly places homosexuals as second class citizens, down there with thieves, murderers or the mentally ill. He clearly believes that it is abnormal for a gay person to teach a child that it is normal to be gay- presumably, it would be abnormal for a straight person to do so as well. But we can see that this letter essentially brings up two arguments: that homosexuals are “harmful” to society in the practical sense, and that in any case the majority in a society have the right to impose their vision of morality over the minority.

His first set of arguments supporting the continued criminalisation of homosexuality asserts that homosexual activity contributes to actual social harms, namely the low birth rate, or an increased risk of venereal diseases, and (somehow), an increase in the prevalance of these harms if homosexuality is legalised.

It is extremely doubtful if homosexuals do contribute to these social harms in a significant way in the first place. Even if they do, we then need to consider the question of why Singapore has never seriously contemplated passing laws criminalising all activities contributing to these social harms, say, by requiring women to have children or be fined. It is not just because such laws would be difficult to enforce, but also because as a society we already recognise the right of people to make lifestyle choices in these areas of life.

We do not prosecute promiscuous people for being promiscuous even though their activity does lead to an increased risk of venereal diseases.

The second argument that Mr Cheng makes is that the majority has a right to impose its vision of morality over the rest of society. Perhaps, but there is a very good reason why it should not criminalise homosexuality.

Let us suppose that homosexuals practice behaviour that we would consider immoral or disgusting- “promiscuous” and “hedonistic” in Mr Cheng’s words. But many Singaporeans would also consider many other things immoral or disgusting, such as adultery, having abortions, and so on. By making homosexual activity a crime, we are effectively denying the right of homosexuals to fully participate in the political and social life of the community. For example, people who engage in other sorts of immorality still have the right to stand as members of parliament, but homosexuals do not, given that citizens are disqualified from office if they have been sentenced to more than a year’s jail, and the maximum sentence for male gay sex is more than that.

It is not true that the law on homosexuality is not going to be actively enforced, because the fact is that there have been recent prosecutions for that offence in the past. And if it is true that this law is little enforced nowadays due to the policy of the government, it makes a mockery of the rule of law.

I’m rather biased towards the liberal argument that homosexual activity is not per se immoral, and that homosexuality is a nature thing, even before reading law at a notoriously liberal university. No one disputes the right of people of Mr Cheng to believe that homosexuality is grossly sinful and/or disgusting ( I find it disgusting myself).

But this is a matter of private morality.

As I hope to have shown in this article, one cannot argue for the continued criminalisation of homosexual activity and insist that homosexuals have the same political and social standing as any other law-abiding citizen in Singapore. A “clean” and “wholesome” society necessarily makes some groups second class citizens, and the criminalisation of homosexuality ensures that homosexuals in Singapore have a political and social standing not much higher than black people in segregation-era America.

Is this really what we want Singapore to be?

Jie Kai Koh,

Law student,Oxford.


Read also these responses to the Straits Times letter:

A Trip Into My Head: A step forward, a giant leap backwards

Bananation: Letter to forum editor – issue of homosexuality.


18 Responses to “Decriminalising homosexuality in Singapore”

  1. Moto said

    Hi Editor,

    Thank you for linking my e-zine to your website.

    I hope the insensitive citizens will now acknowledge that a positive side of the homosexual community does exist.

    Moto for

  2. Hi Moto,

    No problem. You’re welcome. I just thought it’d be good to hear the views of someone who’s “more involved” in the issue, rather than just ‘outside’ commentators.


  3. Nisha said

    I must say i was rather surprised to see a link to my blog on here. I like how you’ve put forth your arguments and i agree with everything you’ve said. In fact, you make a much better argument than i do. 😉


  4. hanyen said

    PM Lee’s Wife Ho Ching is featured in Time 100

  5. Hi Nisha,

    Thanks for visiting. 🙂

    Since we’ve heard from mostly guys on the issue of homosexuality, I thought it’d be good to include a woman’s views. Fortunately, I came across your blog and your write up. 🙂

    Do you have an email where I can reach you?

    Ours is



  6. Anonymous said

    Can you imagine PM Lee and Bushes conversation?

    Bush : Hi Lee, good to see you again.
    Lee : Great to see you.
    Bush : I got to give you to giving yourself a pay rise like that.
    Lee : Hahaha… that was easy. We got stupid citizens.
    Bush : Darn, I wish americans were more like singaporeans. This Iraq policy is getting quite out of hand, and the Democrats are pissing me off.
    Lee : Well, you got to learn how to fix them.
    Bush : But its tough to change to constitution from a democracy, and americans are just so vocal.
    Lee : I see your problem.
    Bush : Apparently I am the most hated person in the country right now.
    Lee : Maybe you can come work in Singapore later?
    Bush : Shit Lee, work in your shithole of an island? Well, maybe if I need the money. I heard you are pretty much hated in Singapore too. How about your come and work in one of my lubricant companies when you out of politics?
    Lee : Hey, I really appreciate that. That’s what that I mean by strengthening US-Asean ties.
    Bush : No problems Lee, we dictators got to stick together.

  7. Hi Anonymous,

    Hahaha. Very creative imagination. Bush has fallen a long way from his very popular pre and during-Iraq days. Our PM’s popularity has also taken a hit somewhat.

    So, it’s true – there are similarities between the two men. 🙂


  8. Nisha said

    Hello again, Andrew. You can reach me at *deleted by editor* 🙂


  9. ganchau said

    Those of us who are not gays should be thankful we are not gays. Who wants to be gay or “abnormal” or be a
    minority of people with less than acceptable behaviour?

    Who are we to pronounce judgement on others.? Before we criticise and condemn others, let us take the speck out from our eyes so that we can view the world with greater clarity, compassion and acceptance like the way God loves each and everyone.

  10. Hi Nisha,

    Thanks for your email addy. I have taken it down from here, to protect your privacy. 🙂

    I’ll email you shortly..

    Thanks, Nisha.


  11. sarek said

    “The second argument that Mr Cheng makes is that the majority has a right to impose its vision of morality over the rest of society. Perhaps, but there is a very good reason why it should not criminalise homosexuality.”

    It is not true that “the majority has a right to impose its vision of morality over the rest of society” because in true democracy, the minority rights are protected against such acts which can be constituted as majority tyranny. In fact, the PAP government does act to protect the minority rights where it sees fit. The issue is whether certain group should be considered as minority and when majority wish becomes act of tyranny.

    In Today News article (, Mr Thomas Koshy said:

    Indeed, for over 10 years, there has been no prosecution under section 377A for gay sex between consenting adults.

    In July 2003, Mr Goh Chok Tong, then the Prime Minister, revealed that the public sector had begun employing openly homosexual people, even for sensitive posts.

    These statements serve to contradict the views:

    For example, people who engage in other sorts of immorality still have the right to stand as members of parliament, but homosexuals do not, given that citizens are disqualified from office if they have been sentenced to more than a year’s jail, and the maximum sentence for male gay sex is more than that.

    It is not true that the law on homosexuality is not going to be actively enforced, because the fact is that there have been recent prosecutions for that offence in the past.

    expressed in this article.

  12. […] clash of two religions, there are many issues with regards to religion. In light of the debate on Homosexuality, the issues brought forth become even more relevant to modern day […]

  13. naturally said

    for those who revere the book,

    Rev 22:11 He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness STILL: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy STILL: and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness STILL: and he that is holy, let him be made holy still.
    Rev 22:12 Behold, I come quickly; and my reward(or) is with me, to render to each man ACCORDING as his work is.

    accordingly, there should not be any aids for aids.

    no one should interfere with the natural corrective order and thus, each his own consequences and rewards!

    so let the ‘disease’ decides ………

  14. Joel said

    Hi Naturally,

    it is one thing to invoke God’s law of the harvest in this argument, and quite another to be plain spiteful.

    I have been reading comment after comment about how AIDs is the logical punishment for gay people, that we should just let the gay community fester in its disease, but yours just really takes the cake.

    If God has planned for AIDs to be some form of punishment for homosexuals, then He is not God. In case it hasn’t occured to you, in your hermetic heterosexual wonderland, straight people die of AIDs too, and for their own lasciviousness. If AIDs is punishment at all, it is for sleeping around, and God knows a man is a man, gay or not. And believe it or not, there are many many many gay people who do not contract AIDs, and who actually do have loving, happy and fulfilling relationships. So tell me what’s in place to take care of them. Go on, quote some more scripture, what does God have to say about love?

    In any case, there are innocent people, CHILDREN, who die of AIDs all over the world for no fault of their own. Tell me with every shred of religious conviction in you that you think God has willingly inflicted this on the world.

    It pains me to see people quote scripture out of context as if the Bible were Shakespeare. You don’t just take a verse and apply it as and how you want, you can prove anything that way, and to the most sacrilegious of effects.

  15. Hi Andrew,

    Oh, I am quite surprised that I am linked here too. Haha… 😛 I am actually quite frustrated that people are stuck with the warped idea that homosexuals are the cause of AIDS and that the decriminalization of Section 377A is equal to the legalization of homosexuality.

    The thing on AIDS is a serious misconception and I hope that heterosexuals will not assume that as long as they stay straight, they will not get AIDS (d’oh!).

    At the same time, I hope people will understand that decriminalization does not mean legalization and that when homosexual acts are decriminalized, homosexuals who make out in the open will be given equal rights and be prosecuted under other laws, just like their heterosexual counterparts.

    Sigh… we are in need of a mediator – someone who is respected and impartial, to help educate the public that decriminalization is not the end of the world. At the same time, I also agree that the consequences of decriminalization should be studied, but I am against the condescending tone that is being used to refer to homosexuals.

    Talk about equality…

  16. Danielsg said

    My goodness, what is becoming of those ‘nice’ religious Singaporean?

    For their god’s sake, criminalising homosexual means SEND THEM TO JAIL if caught in the act!!!!

    Jail!!!!! It could means the end of their lives. The emotional, physical and the traumas come with a criminal record in their career and lives.

    I accept if you disapprove homosexuality in the name of your ‘value’ and religioun but You, ‘nice’ people are sick, and yes really sick to support JAILING a fellow beings for being ‘GAY’, christian or not.

  17. Andrew said

    Hi Jean,

    Nice to see you here..:) And tks for dropping by..:)

    I think the issue about homosexuality is that it involves a range of other issues/concerns – religious, cultural, sexual, etc. This is why it causes such emotional reactions, even visceral ones.

    And in Singapore, which does not have a history or tradition of civil liberty or debate about the importance of civil liberties, human rights, free expression and so on, the debate has thrown up some really infantile and ridiculous and misinformed view points – such as those offered by Nicholas Lazarus.

    My own feeling is that the S’pore govt will only change its stance if it sees that gay people are not a threat and that there is an economic imperative to legalise or decriminalise gay experiences.

    Having known gay people and transexuals as my friends, I am sympathetic to their cause and feelings. All the gay people I know are not the monsters that people like Nicholas Lazarus is making them out to be.

    Being a member of the Executive Committee of the Young PAP, a litigation lawyer and someone who apparently has political ambitions (I stand corrected), Nicholas Lazarus should be spending more time with gay people, talk to them, know them and then form his own informed opinion.

    I would highly recommend that Nicholas Lazarus watch an episode of “30 Days” – that famous programme in the states, available on dvd. Particularly on the episode where a staucnhly christian young man spent 30 days with a gay person and exposes himself to the gay lifestyle.

    The point is, standing at a distance and decreeing how someone else should live his life is rather well, dumb.

    Forgive my long reply. Haha..

    Thanks for visiting…:)


  18. AY said

    Hey guys, stop bluffing ourselves, we have been fooled again and again without even knowing it.

    The oil companies are making 200% from the consumers and they keep upping the pump prices just to upkeep their lavish lifestyle.

    We peasants are always the ones who are made to pay for the elitists’ luxuries in life – it is a simple MLM concept. The masses supporting the few fat-arses at the top.


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