Singapore's Culture War Over Section 377A: Through the Lens of Public Choice and Multi-Lingual Research

32 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2010 Last revised: 20 Feb 2013

See all articles by Jianlin Chen

Jianlin Chen

University of Melbourne - Melbourne Law School

Date Written: May 1, 2011

Abstract

The 2007 debate over the retention of Singapore’s male sodomy law provision set off a vigorous and passionate public debate reminiscent of the U.S.’s culture war. However, the Singapore government’s final decision reflects an interesting compromise. The law was retained, but its moral content severely curtailed with the promise of non-proactive enforcement against private consensual adult activity, the proclamation of accommodating the gay community and the concession of the inborn nature of homosexuality. This article critically examines this episode of culture war in Singapore and explores the political dynamics driving the compromise. Enriching public choice theory on interest group capture, this article argues that the ruling party’s political dominance coupled with limited but real political competition is surprisingly effective in aligning the government’s position with the majority’s preference despite concerted pressures from well-mobilized minority interest groups. In addition, current legal scholarship on this debate has focused on the "vigorous debate" in the English language forums. This article’s examination of the contemporaneous discourse in the Chinese and Malay newspapers enables a more accurate and comprehensive appreciation of this culture war episode.

Keywords: Culture War, Public Choice, Sodomy, Language

Suggested Citation

Chen, Jianlin, Singapore's Culture War Over Section 377A: Through the Lens of Public Choice and Multi-Lingual Research (May 1, 2011). 38(1) Law & Social Inquiry 106 (2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1697742

Jianlin Chen (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Melbourne Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
Australia

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