Metro Weekly

Singapore to Decriminalize Gay Sex

Despite the decriminalization of gay sex, the government will seek to amend its constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – Photo: Paul Kagame/flickr

Singapore will move to decriminalize gay sex while increasing prohibitions against same-sex marriage, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, August 21.

Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code, a law implemented by the country’s British colonial government in 1938, criminalizes sex between men. Today, even consensual, private sex between adult men in Singapore remains legally punishable by up to two years in prison.

Parliament will now repeal 377A, Loong said. But he also made clear he still sees Singapore as “broadly conservative” and dependent on “traditional” family structures.

“[Gay people] are our fellow Singaporeans. They are our colleagues, our friends, our family members,” Loong said. “We need to find the right way to reconcile and accommodate both the traditional mores of our society and the aspiration of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted.”

Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Singapore. In his speech, Loong declared his intent to enshrine that ban in the Constitution, saying he wants to shore up the definition of marriage as existing solely between a man and a woman, because Singapore’s current ban on same-sex marriage may be vulnerable to a challenge in court under the Constitution’s equal protections clause.

“We have to amend the Constitution to protect [the traditional definition of marriage], and we will do so,” Loong said. “This will help us repeal Section 377A in a controlled and carefully considered way. It will limit this change to what I believe most Singaporeans will accept.”

Heterosexual marriage in Singapore remains tied to a number of national policies, including public housing and adoption rules, all of which Loong said he does not intend to change.

However, his insistence on banning same-sex marriage comes as Singaporeans increasingly support gay relationships, according to a 2022 Ipsos poll.

Singapore at night – Photo: Jimmy McIntyre / flickr

The poll, released in June, found a decreasing number of Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who support 377A compared to a 2018 poll. Moreover, 45% of respondents said they were more accepting of same-sex relationships than they were three years prior.

This isn’t the first time Singapore has reconsidered its laws around LGBTQ rights. In 2007, its Parliament voted to overturn Section 377, which banned oral and anal sex between consenting adults, but left Section 377A intact — a move Loong supported.

In a compromise measure at the time, Loong said the government would not “proactively enforce” 377A’s ban on sex between men.

The law has faced several legal challenges since then. As recently as February, the Court of Appeal of Singapore declined to overturn the law because the government already vowed not to enforce it.

LGBTQ rights activists have supported the repeal of Section 377A for years. Organizations like Oogachaga, a Singaporean LGBTQ advocacy group, greeted the Sunday announcement about the law with hope.

“We live in a safe country governed by the rule of law. It is now time to extend that safety to all LGBTQ individuals and their families in Singapore,” Oogachaga wrote in a statement. “There is no need for families and marriage to be protected from the LGBTQ community.”

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