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We are not any lesser by reason of our sexual preferences: Shanmugam

Nicholas Yong
·Assistant News Editor
·2-min read
Singapore's Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaks to Reuters in Singapore 31 July 2019.  REUTERS/Edgar Su
Singapore's Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaks to Reuters in Singapore 31 July 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

SINGAPORE — Regardless of social or religious beliefs, or sexual preferences, everyone in Singapore is protected by the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament on Monday (1 March).

Speaking during the Committee of Supply debate, Shanmugam told the House, "The amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act make it an offence to urge violence on the grounds of religion, or religious belief, against any person or group. Action can be taken under the MRHA where (a) religious group, using religion, attacks a non-religious group, such as LGBT groups or individuals."

Conversely, action can also be taken when religious groups or its members are attacked by non-religious persons or groups. "LGBTQ persons, non-LGBTQ persons, we are all equal. We are not any lesser by reason of our sexual preferences. And if anyone stirs hate speech, either for or against any sexual or religious community, we will take action," said Shanmugam.

The Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament was responding to Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh's query on whether the government would consider a reiteration of its stand that acts perpetrated against the LGBTQ community will not be tolerated, or updating existing laws to ensure this.

Singh, the Workers' Party chief, called Shanmugam's words a "very powerful statement" and a "fair and egalitarian approach". "I hope all Singaporeans regardless of race or religion actually coalesce around this (and have) reasoned and respectful conversations on LGBTQ issues."

Section 377A of the Penal Code criminalises sex between men. Enacted in 1938, public feedback on the law has been divided. A survey commissioned by Yahoo News Singapore revealed that 42 per cent strongly agreed or agreed with retaining the law, 19 per cent strongly disagreed or disagreed with it, while the remaining 40 per cent were neutral.

The government has consistently said that it would not actively enforce the law.

Former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, as well as former Attorneys-General Walter Woon and V. K. Rajah, are among those who have argued against retaining the law.

In January, Singapore's Apex Court heard three legal challenges seeking to strike down the law.

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