Singapore Announces Plans to End Ban on Gay Sex

Singapore’s decision marks a significant move towards the realization of LGBTQ rights in Southeast Asia.

HomoCulture Equality + Rights Brian Webb

This article was published on August 25th, 2022

The government of Singapore will decriminalize sex between men. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday during a major policy address that the city-state is taking steps to become more accepting of gay people.

Lee Hsien Loong said that he believed this was the right thing to do and something that most Singaporeans would now accept. He also noted that Section 377A of the penal code, a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex between men, would be repealed.

However, the government has no intention of changing the city-state’s legal definition of marriage, which describes it as a union between a man and a woman. Singapore will “protect the definition of marriage from being challenged constitutionally in the courts. This will help us repeal Section 377A in a controlled and carefully considered way,” he said.

The legacy of Section 377A in Singapore has been one of driving stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ people. Court challenges in recent years have demonstrated the resolve of LGBTQ rights advocates and allies.

The Penal Code does not criminalize private consensual sexual activity between adult men or women. However, the section has been used to prosecute individuals for having sex with their partners in public places. In Singapore, adultery is also illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison.

Unprecedented discrimination

Lee’s speech on Sunday was clear. He wants to see LGBTQ people living their lives and participating in Singapore, but he also wants to ensure that the legal reforms accomplish this.

In recent months, LGBTQ people in Singapore continue to face unprecedented levels of discrimination in schools, workplaces, and accessing health care. This is because of the lack of understanding among many people about what it means to be LGBTQ. The government has made some efforts toward ameliorating this problem, but it is clear that more work needs to be done before LGBTQ people are fully included in society.

While the news that Singapore has officially recognized same-sex marriage has been hailed as a progressive step, it’s important to note that there are still many steps left for LGBTQ rights advocates in the country to take.

In a joint statement issued by 22 LGBTQ rights groups, they said they were “relieved” to see Lee make the announcement, but they also noted that “the practical impacts of this step are still limited.”

“For everyone who has experienced the kinds of bullying, rejection, and harassment enabled by this law, repeal finally enables us to begin the process of healing,” said an official statement issued by the LGBTQ rights groups.

One step towards full equality

They emphasized that it’s only one step towards full equality in their country. “For those that long for a more equal and inclusive Singapore, repeal signifies that change is indeed possible,” they said. The rights groups called on the government not to heed calls from religious conservatives to enshrine the traditional definition of marriage in their constitution.

Although Lee did not suggest when Section 377A would formally be repealed, Singapore’s decision marks a significant step toward legalizing same-sex unions, and it’s another small step in the direction of making LGBTQ rights more widespread throughout Southeast Asia.

Thailand took an important step in the direction of legalizing same-sex unions in June, putting it on the cusp of becoming the second Asian government to do so.

It is quite an encouraging development that shows that even countries with conservative views on LGBTQ issues are willing to move in a more progressive direction.

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