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Singapore's Culture War over Section 377A: Through the Lens of Public Choice and Multilingual Research

Authors

  • Jianlin Chen

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Hong Kong and University of Chicago
      Jianlin Chen is an Assistant Law Professor at the University of Hong Kong and a JSD candidate at the University of Chicago. He holds a LLM from the University of Chicago and a LLB from the National University of Singapore. He is a qualified lawyer/attorney in Singapore and New York. The author thanks Tom Ginsburg, Eugene Tan Kheng Boon, Soh Kwan Mei, and four anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and critiques, and Fatin Nadiah Bt Masud for her instrumental research assistance. Nonetheless, all errors are mine alone. may be addressed to chenjianlin@uchicago.edu.
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Jianlin Chen is an Assistant Law Professor at the University of Hong Kong and a JSD candidate at the University of Chicago. He holds a LLM from the University of Chicago and a LLB from the National University of Singapore. He is a qualified lawyer/attorney in Singapore and New York. The author thanks Tom Ginsburg, Eugene Tan Kheng Boon, Soh Kwan Mei, and four anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and critiques, and Fatin Nadiah Bt Masud for her instrumental research assistance. Nonetheless, all errors are mine alone. may be addressed to chenjianlin@uchicago.edu.

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 US culture war. However, the Singapore government's final decision reflects an interesting compromise. The law was retained, but its moral content was severely curtailed. This article critically examines this episode 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 preference of the majority despite concerted pressure from well-mobilized minority interest groups. Current legal scholarly work on this debate has focused on the “vigorous debate” in the English-language forums. In this article, the examination of the contemporaneous discourse in Chinese and Malay newspapers enables a more accurate and comprehensive appreciation of this culture war episode.

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