Singapore’s Catholic archbishop has released a pastoral letter strongly opposing the repeal of a law in that nation which criminalizes homosexuality. He claimed at one point that decriminalization would have “long-term and irreversible” consequences which are “dreadful.”
Archbishop William Goh published the letter last week on the question of whether Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code should be repealed, a conversation given new life after a legal challenge was filed earlier this month that claims the law is unconstitutional. Goh warned against a “slippery slope” which could occur if homosexuality were decriminalized, writing:
“Indeed, I would not object to a repeal of S377A if it were merely aimed at removing all potential criminal penalties against homosexuals. However, until and unless Parliament puts in place a formulation that more perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the law, guaranteeing the protection of the rights of the majority who favour the traditional family, and that no further demands be made to legalise same-sex unions, adoption of babies by same sex couples, surrogacy, or to criminalise those who do not support the homosexual lifestyle, I am of the view that S377A should not be repealed under the present circumstances. This is because, by accepting homosexual acts as a social norm, the dreadful consequences for the stability of our families, the well-being of our children, and the risks to the common good will be long-term and irreversible.
“As the chief shepherd of the archdiocese, I therefore appeal to all Catholics to make a conscientious decision to reject the repeal for the future of our families, humanity and society. Looking at the dire consequences for countries which normalised same-sex unions and the ramifications that followed, may we not repeat the mistake that others have made! I pray that we will not walk the slippery path of no return.”
Goh’s letter included reiterations of church teaching on sexuality and civic engagement, as well as including questions to help Catholics decide whether or not they support repeal. The questions, some very leading, included:
- “What is the underlying intent of the law? Is it not to underscore that the norm for our society is marriage between a man and a woman, in order to preserve the stability of marriage and the family and society?. . .
- “Will repealing the law help to promote the flourishing of individuals, family and society according to God’s Plan? Or will it embolden activists to push further for the normalisation of same-sex relationships, such as legislation to permit same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples?. . .
- Will the repeal of this law lead to the subjugation of the rights of Catholics to exercise their faith values, and force them to accept homosexual values and lifestyles in their homes, schools, faith communities, work places and places of worship?”
The archbishop concluded his letter with an appeal for Catholics to contact government officials to express support for the continued criminalization of lesbian and gay people and to sign a petition towards that end which has garnered more than 100,000 signatures.
Section 377A is a colonial law leftover from when the British ruled Singapore, similar to other criminalization laws in former colonies. The law is not presently enforced. Catholics make up about 6% of Singapore’s population, totaling around 300,000.
This letter is not the first time Goh has weighed in problematically on LGBT issues. In 2014, he ended up apologizing after writing that being lesbian or gay, which he referred to as a “lifestyle,” “should not be promoted by Catholics as it is detrimental to society, is not helpful to integral human development and contrary to Christian values.”
Daryl Yang, an LGBT activist in Singapore, challenged the archbishop’s letter in a column posted via Medium. Yang pointed out that Goh is bargaining with people’s human rights, saying he will only oppose decriminalization if that ends the LGBT rights discussion altogether. Yang described this approach as “troublingly undemocratic, and argued that the archbishop’s position “seems incongruent with the position that the Holy See had set out back in 2008” that opposed criminalization.
To the archbishop’s argument that decriminalization would lead to legal battles witnessed in the United States between LGBT activists and the Christian Right, Yang explained:
“. . .[I]it does not seem that this would even be an issue in Singapore. While the US and UK may have such legislations, it is a product of their respective historical and political context. In the US, non-discrimination legislations have been enacted in light of its history of racism and racial segregation. In the UK, such legislations had been enacted to comply with their obligations as a member of the European Union. (It remains to be seen then how these laws may develop following Brexit).
“In contrast, Singapore has not favoured using the coercive force of the law to promote inclusion, preferring instead to promulgate guidelines to reduce the incidence of prejudice and discrimination. The only exception is pregnancy discrimination under the Employment Act. . .
“Such fears of the loss of religious freedom among many religious communities are therefore unfounded and unnecessarily imported from other societies, where the social, cultural, legal, political and historical contexts are significant different.”
Indeed, Yang continued, Goh and church officials in Singapore seem to ignore real threats to religious liberty being imposed by the state. The institutional Church, he pointed out, has remained silent on several key issues, including the death penalty. Claims about threatened religious liberty seem much weaker in light of these facts.
Archbishop Goh has relied, once again, on uninformed fear-mongering, this time in opposing a repeal which Catholic teaching could very much support. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that lesbian and gay people should not face “unjust discrimination,” and there are few forms of discrimination more unjust than criminalizing a person’s identity. But instead of standing for human rights, the archbishop has chosen the homophobic narrative about LGBT rights being a “slippery slope” endangering the common good. To the archbishop’s questions for Catholics, I would add two more: Are the safety and well-being of lesbian and gay people included in your understanding of the common good? If not, are you really invested in defending every person’s dignity or might prejudices and biases be clouding your judgment?
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 25, 2018