What the decriminalization of gay sex in Singapore means for the LGBTQIA community in Asia Pacific

In a landmark move, the Singapore government decided to decriminalize sex between men by repealing a colonial-era law. But while the news has brought joy and celebration among the LGBTQIA community in the country and beyond, equal rights for the community may still be a distant dream with the government of Lee Hsien Loong declaring that it will amend the constitution to ensure that the same-sex marriage is not allowed,

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the leader of the city-state, said on Sunday that he believed repealing the law is “the right thing to do now” as most Singaporeans will now accept decriminalization. During his speech at the annual National Day rally, Lee promised that the repeal will be limited and will not shake Singapore’s traditional family and social norms, including the definition of marriage, what is taught to children in schools, what is shows on television and the behavior of the general public.

“Private sexual behavior between consenting adults does not raise any public order issue. There is no justification for prosecuting people for it or making it a crime,” Lee said. “This will bring the law in line with current social mores and hopefully bring some relief to gay Singaporeans.”

Repeal of a colonial-era law

Many of the bans on sex between men or same-sex sexual relations in the Asia-Pacific region, a vast area of ​​almost five billion people with different laws and attitudes, were instituted under British colonial rule. in the 19th and 20th centuries, and laws describe such acts as violations against the “order of nature.”

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Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code was introduced under British colonial rule in the 1930s. British rule over the island ended in 1963 when Singapore became a state of Malaysia. He became independent two years later, but kept the Penal Code, which punished sexual relations between men with up to two years in prison.

Since 2007, when Parliament last debated whether to repeal Section 377A, his position was to keep the law but not enforce it. But gay men have long maintained that the law hangs over their heads and discriminates against them. Thousands of activists annually organize a demonstration in the city-state known as the “Pink Dot” in support of the LGBTQ community.

Protect the sanctity of marriage

While decriminalization is seen as a step in the right direction, the government’s emphasis on maintaining the sanctity of the institution of marriage carries warnings for the LGBTQIA community. To avoid any constitutional challenge to the ban on same-sex marriage, the Singapore government is willing to amend the constitution to ensure the same. Although many places in the Asia-Pacific area have decriminalized same-sex sexual acts, including India, only a few allow same-sex marriage, partnerships, or unions.

“Even if we repeal Section 377A, we will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage,” Lee said. “We have to amend the constitution to protect it. And we will. This will help us repeal Section 377A in a controlled and careful manner,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee said.

Lee said he hopes the government’s move will help reconcile and accommodate the concerns of conservative religious groups and the desires of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted.

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“All groups must exercise restraint because that is the only way we can move forward together as a nation,” he said. “I hope that the new balance will allow Singapore to remain a tolerant and inclusive society for many years to come.”

This new change highlights same-sex marriages as the next bastion of LGBTQIA rights in Singapore, as it would mean that any decision on same-sex marriage will now be in the hands of the government, not the courts.

LGBTQIA joy

Singapore’s gay community hailed the decision as “a triumph of love over fear”, but also warned that there is still a long way to go to equality and that new bans on same-sex unions could entrench discrimination against them. . More than 20 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, including Pink Dot SG, which organizes an annual rally that draws thousands of supporters, said the repeal was long overdue to show that “state-sanctioned discrimination does not has a place in Singapore”.

(With contributions from Associated Press)