Bills tabled to repeal 377A

MONOLISA

A Bill to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, was introduced in Parliament on Thursday, paving the way for the colonial-era law to be struck from the books.

At the same time, an amendment to the Constitution was introduced to protect the current definition of marriage as being between a man and woman - and government policies made on that basis - from being challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds.

The two Bills will be debated together when Parliament sits on Nov 28, and then voted on separately.

This is because repealing a law requires just a simple majority of MPs, while any amendment to the Constitution has to be supported by at least two-thirds of MPs, excluding Nominated MPs.

The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, introduced in Parliament by Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, comes after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the National Day Rally in August that the Government would repeal S377A and decriminalise sex between men as attitudes towards homosexuality had shifted appreciably.

A recent Court of Appeal decision and advice by the Attorney-General also point to significant risk of S377A being struck down by the Courts in a future challenge to declare the law unconstitutional on the grounds that it breaches Article 12 of the Constitution, PM Lee had said then.

Article 12 states that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.

At the same time, most Singaporeans do not want the repeal to trigger a drastic shift in societal norms across the board, PM Lee had said of the Government's consultations with the public, including on the definition of marriage and what is taught in schools.

As the Constitution is the highest law in the land, any law enacted in Parliament but found to be inconsistent with it can be struck down by the courts.

The constitutional amendment, tabled by Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, will introduce a new Article 156 (Institution of Marriage) clause to the Constitution.

It states that Parliament can define the institution of marriage, and make pro-family laws on the basis of that definition.

The proposed amendment spells out that the Government and public authorities may enact policies that protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote the institution of marriage.

The amendment also protects existing laws that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and states that such laws and policies cannot be found unconstitutional by the courts on the grounds that they contravene the fundamental liberties set out in the Constitution, such as Article 12.

The Straits Times

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