Metro Weekly

Singapore Repeals Ban on Same-Sex Intimacy

Parliament moves to repeal colonial-era anti-sodomy law, but amends constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.

Singapore at night – Photo: Jimmy McIntyre, via Flickr.

Singapore’s parliament voted earlier this week to decriminalize same-sex intimacy, but amended the country’s constitution to prevent same-sex marriages from ever being recognized as legally valid.

For centuries, the country, a former British colony, had a law in place penalizing consensual sex between two men with up to two years in jail, although the statute had been irregularly enforced. Parliamentary leaders repealed the prohibition on same-sex intimacy, long criticized as discriminatory, following failed attempts to challenge the law in the courts.

LGBTQ activists cheered the repeal of the anti-sodomy law, but said the amendment to the constitution to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages was disappointing. The government defended the amendment as a necessary step to circumvent a potential court challenge, arguing that lawmakers, not judges, should be the ones who determine such policies, reports Reuters.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and his successor, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, oppose changing the legal definition of marriage to include anything other than the union of one man and one woman.

While the repeal and the constitutional amendment, pushed by the ruling People’s Action Party, passed with an overwhelming majority, there has been no determination made about when those laws will take effect. 

Bryan Choong, the chair of the LGBTQ advocacy group Oogachaga, celebrated the long-awaited repeal of the anti-sodomy law, known as Section 377A, as a historic moment for the country. But he also argued against the marriage amendment, saying that same-sex couples and their families “have the right to be recognized and protected.”

Roy Tan, a medical doctor who had unsuccessfully challenged the anti-sodomy law in court, was elated by the parliament’s decision, saying the repeal of the law signified “the birth of a new chapter in the history of Singapore’s LGBTQ community.”

Justin, a Singaporean gay man who only gave his first name for fear of workplace discrimination, told the British newspaper The Guardian that he was happy the anti-sodomy law was repealed.

“[It’s] One less reason for me to hide my true self, because of some archaic law,” he said. “But this is just the first step to remove the social and religious stigma that has been upon the community because of outdated beliefs, and media censorship.”

According to Reuters, attitudes towards LGBTQ issues have shifted towards a more liberal stance in recent years, particularly among younger residents, although more conservative attitudes persist among older residents and religious groups.

According to a 2018 survey by the Institute of Policy Studies, nearly 6 in 10 people between the ages of 18 and 25 said they believed gay marriage was “not wrong at all” or “not wrong most of the time,” with that view especially strong among more well-educated individuals, and less strong among devout Muslims and Christians. That same survey also examined shifts in attitudes over time, showing that the percentage of 20-to-24-year-old respondents who felt same-sex intimacy was “not wrong” more than doubled from 17.8% in 2013 to over 40% in 2018. 

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