In a surprising move, Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh decided to reverse his party’s stance on 377A. Previously, the party was against repealing the law which criminalizes sex between gay men. In parliament on 28 Nov, the leader of opposition informed that he would be “lifting the party whip” on 377A. This means that his party members can vote for the repeal or against it, instead of presenting a united front as a party.
If you were somehow not updated, PM Lee announced during National Day Rally that he would be repealing 377A. In line with the repeal, the government will also amend the Constitution to safeguard heterosexual marriages. This protects the definition of marriage from being legally challenged, which makes it harder for same-sex marriages in Singapore.
Why the change?
Pritam Singh shared that WP members had similar views with Singaporeans. That is, some are for the repeal, and some are against it. That is why WP never showed their support nor stood against LGBTQ+ rights. You can watch this part of his speech here.
That is why it was difficult to come to a decision about which side to take, as a party. However, because they have to take a side in the parliamentary debate, Pritam decided to let his party members take their own sides.
“On issues of great social division and contending values, we do not need politicians to be seen as siding with particular groups.”Pritam Singh
Who in WP supports the repeal?
Pritam Singh said that there is no basis for religious groups to feel “cancelled” for holding views that are different from society’s expectations.
Sylvia Lim, WP’s chair, supported the repeal, but abstained from voting on the constitutional amendment after raising concerns that the amendment prohibits challenges to laws and policies based on the definition of marriage. She clarified that she is not supporting gay marriage, but cannot accept the government’s standpoint.
“Will the government, present or future, come up with other areas of life, where the courts are to be excluded from reviewing laws and policies for constitutionality?”Sylvia Lim
MP Leon Perera supported both the repeal and the constitutional amendment. He noted that though there is no disagreement that most people in society do not want Section 377A actively enforced, there is debate over keeping the law as a symbolic moral marker.
MP Louis Chua was absent due to COVID-19, but he indicated his support through Pritam Singh.
Who in WP is against the repeal?
Mirroring the views of the Wear White campaign which opposes homosexuality, MP Dennis Tan opposed the repeal on the basis that it removes the social marker that the law symbolizes for family and social values. He supported the constitutional amendment to protect the definition of marriage.
MP Gerald Giam believes that the government’s compromise of keeping Section 377A without enforcing it gives the best balance of the conflicting interests in society. Hence he is against the repeal and supports the constitutional amendment. He based his views on feedback from residents, such as one who said that a disruption to the status quo would spark the type of “culture wars” seen in other countries.
MP Faisal Manap, who was absent due to COVID-19, opposed the repeal as a “matter of religion and conscience”, said Pritam Singh.
Who didn’t voice their views?
MP Jamus Lim and He Ting Ru did not make their opinions known. He Ting Ru has never spoken about LGBTQ+ issues. However, Jamus Lim’s silence is surprising, considering his appearance at the latest PinkDot event.
Update: In the parliamentary debate on 29 Nov, Jamus Lim and He Ting Ru have voted for the repeal.
Pritam Singh still thinks that if WP openly supported Repeal 377A, it would not have been good for Singapore politics.
He feels that politicians should not be taking sides, because that is the true representation of our society’s views. People are divided about this. That is why it makes sense for WP to not express their views, even if they end up appearing to be “missing in action”.
“I still believe that had the Workers’ Party openly supported a repeal of 377A, it would not have been good for Singapore politics.”Pritam Singh
What do you think? Should WP have continued to stay silent about it? Should they have presented a united front?