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Why are PERGAS and Jamiyah against the repeal of Section 377A in Singapore?

Statement by the Council of Ex-Muslims of Singapore

Why are PERGAS and Jamiyah against the repeal of Section 377A in Singapore?

On 19th and 24th September 2018 respectively, the Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS) and Jamiyah Singapore issued media statements expressing that the organisations do not support the repeal of Section 377A (S377A) of the penal code in Singapore. PERGAS added that the repeal of S377A can cause “several worrying implications affecting Singapore’s population” as well as “normalising and condoning the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) lifestyle”.1-2

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Singapore (CEM-SG) is disheartened to read the statements issued by PERGAS and Jamiyah as the arguments put forth by these organisations do not hold water and may even seem like grasping on straws. Moreover, these statements further invalidate the struggles and perpetuate the stigma and discrimination faced by Singapore’s LGBTQ community.

Singapore’s LGBTQ Community and S377A

Recent years have seen various countries around the world repealing S377A as it is seen as an archaic law. Most recently and notably, the Republic of India announced the removal of the antiquated law which was celebrated by the LGBT community all across the Republic and around the world.

For the uninitiated, S377A of the Penal Code criminalises sex between men, with offenders facing up to two years’ in jail.3 The reverberation of the landmark event in India has generated renewed hopes for the repeal of S377A among LGBTs living in Singapore. Since the early 2000s, the LGBTQ community has continuously pushed for the promotion of inclusiveness, diversity, and the freedom to love in Singapore through the annual Indignation and Pink Dot SG events.

Henceforth, this statement aims to provide a point-by-point rebuttal of the statement issued by PERGAS regarding the effects of repealing S377A.

PERGAS #2: Imposing religious values on civil society

As organisations that represent the Muslim Community in Singapore, the issuance of the two media statements seemed like as imposition of religious values on civil society. The two organisations have clearly expressed that they do not support the repeal of S377A due to religious grounds and their concerns regarding its influence on moral and social values, which can, in turn, affect the institution of family as well as damage the social fabric of society.

Rebuttal to #2

However, it must be noted that the entire civil code of Singapore was not derived nor based on the Syariah law. Singapore is also a secular society. Thus, it is not right to impose religious values on the rest of Singapore population as well as to recommend lawmakers to consider religion as part of the law.

Society is made up of people from different cultures, ethnicity and religions. Furthermore, the organisation’s attempt to inject religious opinions into civil discourse hinders the creation of a more inclusive society here in Singapore as the organisation deems that only its religious values should be heard and upheld.4

It would be interesting to note that our own veteran diplomat, Ambassador-at-large, Professor Tommy Koh has stated in an article saying that leaders of religious groups should respect the separation of state and religion. Professor Koh also added that Singapore is a secular state and that actions which are considered sinful by religious groups should not be imposed on the government by classifying these actions as a crime.5

 Thus, if repealing S377A will lead to negative influences on moral and social values, PERGAS, Jamiyah and other organisations should perhaps take the time and initiative to engage the society, specifically the LGBTQ community rather than paying lip-service and conflating immoral behaviours (i.e. sin) with criminal behaviour (i.e. crime).

PERGAS #3: Threats to the traditional family unit

PERGAS and Jamiyah have highlighted the threat of repealing S377A on Singapore’s traditional family unit as the foundation of society. is also concerned that repealing the act can lead to several worrying implications. According to the principles of Maqasid (or the Syariah objectives) quoted by PERGAS, the purpose of a family unit is to give birth to the new generation, as well as to protect the existence of mankind. To achieve these objectives, Islam emphasises on the formation of a family through legal marriage between a man and a woman.

Allah s.w.t says in the Quran, in Surah Al-Syura verse 11 (translated): “[He is] Creator of the heavens and the earth. He has made for you from yourselves, mates, and among the cattle, mates; He multiplies you thereby. There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the Hearing, the Seeing.”

Rebuttal to #3

The principles seem to clearly discriminate against single parents and orphan children. Moreover, if the purpose of a family is to the new generation, what about couples who are unable to conceive and have to adopt a child instead?

Studies have shown that there are no significant differences in growth and development among children raised by heterosexuals as compared to those raised by LGBTQ parents. Researchers have found that children living within same-sex parent households fare just, as well as those children residing within different-sex parent households over a wide array of well-being measures including academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse.

Additionally, a recent meta-analysis in 2017 found that children of gay fathers had significantly better outcomes as compared to children of heterosexual parents as both gay fathers tended to practice more egalitarian parenting roles and were more likely to be of higher socioeconomic status as dual-earner households.6-7

PERGAS has also cited that gay parents are unable to father children as they lack the reproductive organs to conceive a child. However, it can be seen that gay parents are able to provide just as much love and care to children as heterosexual parents.

It is, therefore, irrational to fear that having such a union among LGBTQs would destabilize society by preventing the existence of mankind. We question whether PERGAS is intending to deny orphan children from being adopted into loving families which would only benefit the children’s well-being and development.

PERGAS #4: Normalisation of the LGBTQ lifestyle

PERGAS and Jamiyah have stated that another negative implication of repealing S377A would be the affirmation and normalisation of the LGBTQ lifestyle. They opined that this conflicts with the government’s policy of building strong family units to strengthen the fabric of society. It is also in contrast with the view of the majority of Singaporeans who still hold on to traditional family values. This was reflected by the survey results by Ipsos which found that only 12% of respondents had opposed keeping S377A.

Repealing S377A may also cause much confusion among the younger generation regarding morality. Moreover, PERGAS and Jamiyah are of the opinion that if S377A is repealed, it will further affect the population growth of this country, a major concern of the current Singapore government.

Rebuttal to #4

PERGAS and Jamiyah have used the term “lifestyle” in describing the lives of people within the LGBTQ community. However, PERGAS should perhaps note that being LGBTQ’ is not a lifestyle. Various scientific studies have found that homosexuality or sexual orientation, in general, is a natural variation within humans similar to ethnicity and sex. This variation is not only found in human beings but also in other species throughout the animal kingdom.

Furthermore, the online survey by Ipsos had only 750 respondents between the age of 16 and 65 years of age. The survey added that Singapore residents aged 55 to 65 were more likely to support S377A. However, the survey did not explicate the proportion of respondents from the respective age groups. The participants who responded could be heavily skewed towards those aged 55 to 65 years old thus affecting the percentage of those who support S377A. Additionally, the gender and ethnicity of the participants were unknown and might not be representative of the 5.5 million Singapore residents, thus affecting the generalizability of the survey results from Ipsos.9

It must also be highlighted to PERGAS and Jamiyah that despite the existence of S377A, the current fertility rate in Singapore still stands at 1.16 per female. This is way below the minimum threshold of 2.1 for a developed country to sustain itself. Thus, how has the existence of S377A helped in any way to increase the population growth in Singapore? PERGAS and Jamiyah are simply painting a gloomy future for Singapore without having taken into account the current situation that the country is in. It is therefore imperative to rethink the definition of what constitutes a family unit in today’s society.

PERGAS #5: Upholding values of Humanity and Islam?

Pergas and Jamiyah have called upon the Muslim community to uphold the values of humanity as taught in Islam in our engagement and relations with others. Our relationship with those from the LGBTQ community, just as how we interact with others, should be filled with mercy (Rahmah) as we extend kindness to all.

Rebuttal to #5

We applaud PERGAS attempts to engage the LGBTQ community by extending kindness and mercy to all LGBTQs. To uphold the values of humanity yet refusing to support the repeal of S377A seems like a contradiction on the part of PERGAS.

The existence of S377A makes gay men as criminals in the eyes of the law. Holding on to such an archaic law creates further stigmatization and discrimination towards the LGBTQ community. It is also a clear indication that PERGAS statement holds no weight in wanting to create tolerance or promote humanity.

PERGAS #6: Inclusiveness or Exclusivity?

PERGAS added that one should never isolate, exclude or insult those who feel that they belonged to the LGBTQ community. Instead, PERGAS calls upon Muslims to approach these people with kindness and to support them in returning to the true teachings of Islam. As mentioned in the Quran, verse 3 of Surah Al-‘Asr (translated): “… and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.”

PERGAS #7: Engagement with the LGBTQ Community

Pergas also sincerely hoped that members of the general society, especially those in the Muslim community, to maintain good manners and act wisely when discussing this issue. This includes avoiding insulting others and belittling others and their opinions. In voicing out aspirations, concerns and opinions, PERGAS hopes that we can all spread the spirit of Islam that strongly emphasises good character.

Allah s.w.t. says in Surah Al-Nahl verse 125 (translated): “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.”

Rebuttal to #6 and #7

PERGAS and Jamiyah highlight doing good and maintaining harmony in the general society. If PERGAS is indeed willing to support the LGBTQ community, it must first be accountable for its statements. As highlighted in the earlier point, PERGAS should, therefore, support the repeal of S377A. Furthermore, whether or not the LGBTQ community believes in the ‘right path’ that PERGAS advocates, the decision to do so should remain a personal choice among LGBTQ individuals and this must be respected.11 We would like PERGAS to be accountable and engage the Muslim LGBTQ community which remains to be seen.

PERGAS #8: Seeking advice from the religious

Pergas has also advised individuals who are facing issues regarding their sexuality to seek religious advice from accredited Asatizahs and counsellors who hold true to Islamic principles.

Allah s.w.t. says in Surah Al-Nahl verse 43 (translated): “So ask the followers of the Reminder if you do not know”.

Rebuttal to #8

As society progresses, there is a need to review and revise practices that are deemed to be outdated to ensure that we are keeping up with the times. To quote values from the 6th century certainly bears no weight with today’s morality.

The World Psychiatric Association has reiterated that innate sexual orientation cannot be changed. To do otherwise “can create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish and they can be potentially harmful”.12

Seeking out Asatizahs or counsellors who may not understand issues being faced by LGBTQs may create further confusion and rejection in such individuals. As such, it is best for Muslims who identify as LGBTQ seek out like-minded people from various groups in the LGBTQ community who can provide the necessary support to ensure a holistic understanding of their sexuality.

Conclusion

This statement is not meant to disparage or antagonize PERGAS, Jamiyah or any other religious institution in Singapore. Instead, CEMSG seeks to increase the awareness among religious groups on the need to co-exist peacefully with other groups in the secular society of Singapore.

We are human beings who are seeking to advocate for inclusiveness, diversity, the freedom to love, and plurality amidst the differences that exist in the general society. We urge members of the LGBTQ community to remain patient and continue seeking support in difficult times. CEMSG hopes that S377A of the penal code will be repealed by the state as the state should have no interference between two consenting adults.

Regards;
The Council of Ex-Muslims of Singapore (CEMSG)

 


References

  1. http://www.pergas.org.sg/media/MediaStatement/English-Pemansuhan-Seksyen377A.pdf
  2. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/377a-repeal-would-do-more-harm-than-good-jamiyah
  3. https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/PC1871?ProvIds=pr377A-#pr377A-
  4. https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/CONS1963?ProvIds=P1IV-#pr15-
  5. https://tembusu.nus.edu.sg/news/2018/section-377a-science-religion-and-the-law
  6. Miller, B. G., Kors, S., & Macfie, J. (2017). No differences? Meta-analytic comparisons of psychological adjustment in children of gay fathers and heterosexual parents. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 4(1), 14.
  7. Manning, W. D., Fettro, M. N., & Lamidi, E. (2014). Child well-being in same-sex parent families: Review of research prepared for American Sociological Association Amicus Brief. Population Research and Policy Review, 33(4), 485-502.
  8. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-siebold/need-more-proof-being-gay_b_5805680.html
  9. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/55-per-cent-of-singapore-residents-support-section-377a-ipsos-survey
  10. https://www.singstat.gov.sg/find-data/search-by-theme/population/births-and-fertility/latest-data
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Baqara_256
  12. http://www.wpanet.org/detail.php?section_id=7&category_id=25&content_id=1807
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