Repeal of sex ban in Singapore poses major hurdle for same-sex marriage

(Bloomberg) — Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government will repeal a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex between men, but will seek to strengthen rules that prevent same-sex marriages by modification of the Constitution of the nation.

Removing the legal ban on sex between men, known as Section 377A of the Penal Code, was “the right thing to do and something that most Singaporeans will now accept,” Lee said in his National Rally Day speech on Sunday.

While the long-awaited change was welcomed by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, Lee said the city-state would amend the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage between a man and a woman, in a compromise with groups conservative and religious.

“We need to find the right way to reconcile and accommodate both the traditional customs of our society and the aspiration of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted,” Lee said.

The abolition of 377A may help Singapore be more welcoming to gay tourists and businesses that actively support LGBTQ causes, but the cap on marriage equality will continue to complicate things for businesses seeking same-partner visas. sex. Singapore has previously handled these types of requests on a case-by-case basis.

“This is a very significant signal, although it is not as far as some of us in the community hoped,” said Darius Cheung, founder and CEO of real estate portal “From a global perspective, this is extremely positive for business and talent, as 377A has been one of the antiquated laws that alienates talent and makes Singapore look backward.”

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Scott Beaumont, president of Google Asia Pacific, said he was pleased to see the law repealed. “We want to create an internal environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and prosper, and we are always pleased to see examples where that is promoted externally,” he said.

In their joint statement following Lee’s speech, the LGBTQ community called the repeal of 377A “a victory for humanity,” but said the intent to enshrine the nation’s current definition of marriage in the constitution “will undermine the secular character of our Constitution, will codify more discrimination into supreme law, and tie the hands of future parliaments.”

legal challenges

By altering the Constitution, the government may be seeking to discourage legal challenges to the definition of marriage. Over the years, activists mounted a series of unsuccessful lawsuits against the ban on sex between men, which carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.

Both the Supreme Court and the Minister of Internal Affairs and Law, K. Shanmugam, said that parliament, not the courts, should decide the law, which has not been applied for more than a decade and does not apply to women. who have sex with other women.

“The provision is more to reduce the likelihood of any constitutional challenge succeeding and for such issues to be decided through the political process,” said Eugene Tan, a political analyst and law professor at Singapore Management University. “The issue remains delicate and powerful.”

One option for marriage equality campaigners would be a public petition to parliament, similar to a 2007 petition to repeal the law against sex between men.

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While Singapore is among 69 countries that still criminalize sex between men, other Asian nations have moved slowly to ease rules that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. India’s highest court legalized sex between men in 2018 and Thailand this year moved to allow same-sex marriages. Taiwan is the only Asian jurisdiction that legally recognizes this type of union.

Hong Kong allows expatriate gay workers to bring their partners on dependent visas following a 2018 court ruling. Although a crackdown on social activism could hamper further legal challenges to promote equality.

In a mixed response to Lee’s speech, the National Council of Churches in Singapore, a Christian coalition, said in a statement that they appreciate the government’s assurance that it will “uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage” and asked him to “directly express a definition of marriage in the Constitution.

Singapore has a vibrant LGBTQ community and hosts an annual pride rally that returned this year after pandemic restrictions eased. Apple Inc., Barclays Plc, Bloomberg LP, Goldman Sachs Group, Google and Twitter Inc. were among the sponsors of the 2016 event, before Singapore tightened rules on the participation of international companies and banned foreigners from entering the event.

Nearly half of respondents in the city-state were more accepting of same-sex relationships than they were three years ago, according to an Ipsos study published in June. Those who supported 377A fell to 44%, from 55% in 2018, the survey showed.

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