Singapore to decriminalize sex between men, says PM | LGBTQ News

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has announced that his country will decriminalize sexual relations between men, but will continue to maintain the legal definition of marriage between a man and a woman.

In his annual national day rally speech, Lee said Sunday that he believed repealing Section 377A of the penal code, a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex between men, is “the right thing to do,” since most Singaporeans were increasingly accepting of sex between men. gay people.

“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.”

It was unclear when exactly Section 377A would be repealed.

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 shown on television and the conduct of the general public. .

He said the government will amend the constitution to ensure there can be no constitutional challenge to allowing same-sex marriage.

“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.”

Section 377A of the Penal Code was introduced under British colonial rule in the 1930s. Offenders can be jailed for up to two years under the law, but it is not currently actively enforced. There have been no known convictions for sex between consenting adult men for decades and the law does not include sex between women or other genders.

A woman wrapped in the rainbow flag is seen at the Pink Dot rally, Singapore's annual gay pride rally, at a park in Singapore on July 1, 2017.
A woman wrapped in the rainbow flag is seen at the Pink Dot event, Singapore’s annual gay pride rally, at a park in Singapore on July 1, 2017. [REUTERS/Darren Whiteside]

LGBTQ groups have filed multiple legal challenges to try to repeal the law, but none have been successful.

Since 2007, when the Singapore parliament last debated whether to repeal Section 377A, their position has been to keep the law but not enforce it. But gay men say 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.

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.

“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.”

One of Lee’s nephews, Li Huanwu, is gay. Lee’s estranged younger brother’s son Lee Hsien Yang married his partner in South Africa in 2019. Li Huanwu has attended Pink Dot events with his partner and his parents.

LGBTQ groups welcomed Lee’s decision, but also raised concerns that scrapping same-sex marriage would help perpetuate discrimination.

In a statement signed by more than 20 groups, gay rights advocates said they were “relieved” by Lee’s announcement.

“For everyone who has experienced the types of intimidation, rejection and harassment allowed by this law, the repeal finally allows us to begin the healing process. For those who yearn for a more equal and inclusive Singapore, repeal means change is possible,” they said.

But the groups also urged the government not to heed calls by religious conservatives to enshrine the definition of marriage in the constitution, saying this would indicate that LGBTQ+ citizens are not equal.

Meanwhile, an alliance of more than 80 churches expressed strong disappointment at Lee’s decision.

“The repeal is an extremely unfortunate decision that will have a profound impact on the culture in which our children and future generations of Singaporeans will live,” he said.

Singapore is a multiracial and multireligious society of 5.5 million, with Buddhist, Christian and Muslim communities. It has a predominantly ethnic Chinese population with significant Malay and Indian minorities, according to the 2020 census.

Lee’s move makes Singapore the latest Asian country to move toward ending discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.

In 2018, India’s Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex by overturning legislation from its own period under British rule, while in 2019, Taiwan made the unprecedented decision to legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first place in Asia to do so.

Thailand also recently approved plans allowing same-sex unions.

Other former British colonies still retain laws criminalizing sex between men, including Malaysia, where a former deputy prime minister was twice jailed for sodomy. He was sentenced in 2000 and again in 2014.

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