Thursday, July 06, 2017

What is the Purpose of 377A?

I couldn’t agree more with writer of “Repeal of 377A won’t automatically change people’s minds” (Today Newspaper 21 March 2017). The writer has rightfully argued that it takes time to achieve a change in social attitudes than it does a change in legal statutes. Repealing 377A won’t make the general public any more accepting of homosexuality overnight.

What the writer and other writers did not address is the question of who does 377A protect. Why do we insist on criminalizing a particular sexual act when we have legitimized almost every other sexual act?

If one looks at laws governing sexual activity, one will notice that the key word is consent. As long as both parties are deemed capable of consent to a sexual act it is legal. If one party is deemed unable to give consent it is not. Rape is not legal because one party did not consent - a inconvenient fact that Professor Thio Li-Ann failed to take into consideration in her infamous 2007 speech to parliament when she urged Singapore's MP's to "Reject the argument of consent" citing it as morally bankrupt. I'm surprised that nobody has called the good professor out on this fact.  

The other area that governs most sexual acts is the question of where they take place. A sexual act in public is a criminal offense because it disturbs the public while an act in the bedroom does not.

So, given these two general facts, why is 377A on the statute books? Who does this law serve? In her 2007 speech, Professor Thio Li-Ann argued that keeping 377A served to protect the national interest. However, Professor Thio did not provide conclusive evidence of how the law protected the national interest.

Take, for example, the most obvious – public health and safety. It can be argued that participating in anal sex increases the risk of catching HIV/AIDS. However, while this may be the case, why is it legal for a heterosexual couple to engage in anal sex while it is not for homosexuals. Are we to say that the law is in favour of protecting homosexuals and not heterosexuals from the possibilities of catching sexually transmitted diseases?

Professor Thio did argue that homosexuals tend to live more promiscuous lifestyles, hence it was in the public interest to keep 377A. While 377A criminalises the act of anal sex between men, it does not criminalise promiscuity. Unless Professor Thio is able to provide scientific evidence linking the act of anal sex between men and promiscuous behavior, it’s hard to see how the act protects anyone in this respect. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health’s statistics would on HIV infections have shown that HIV/AIDS has long since ceased to be a homosexual disease.

There is an argument that people disapprove of homosexual behavior. However, once again there is no evidence to suggest that people believe that something they disapprove of should be illegal.

The topic of 377A creates many passions. However, nobody seems to have asked who the law protects. It would be in the national interest to have an evidence based explanation. 

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