Singapore announces plans to end law banning gay sex, however no movement on same-sex marriage or LGBTQ+ content restrictions

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Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong has announced an end to the country’s law that criminalises gay sex
Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong has announced an end to the country’s law that criminalises gay sex (Reuters: Edgar Su)

Singapore will repeal the law that bans gay sex, effectively making it legal to be queer.

LGBTQ+ activists in Singapore called the decriminalization of gay sex, noted formally under “acts of gross indecency”, a “win for humanity” but also expressed some reservations. 

 

Singapore has become the latest country in Asia to make some positive progress with regard to LGBTQ+ rights.

 

The announcement by Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, to repeal Section 377A came on Sunday (August 21), however LGBTQ+ content will continue to receive higher age ratings in Singapore, the Ministry of Communications and Information later confirmed.

Currently, content deemed as “promoting homosexuality” can be banned from broadcast in Singapore, and TV shows and movies containing queer narratives have frequently been censored.

 

The government also stopped short of legalizing same-sex marriage, although did say steps would be taken to prevent legal challenges which allow same-sex marriages to be recognised.

 

Section 377A of Singapore’s penal code – introduced in the 30s while the country was under British colonial rule – bans consensual, same-sex sexual activity between men.

Singapore inherited 377A, which does not include sex between women or other genders, from the British and chose to retain it after gaining independence in 1965.

 

 

On Sunday night – during his annual national day rally speech – Mr Lee said Singaporean society was becoming more accepting of gay people and as such they would abolish the archaic law, adding: “this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will accept”.

He went on to say that “gay people are now better accepted” and scrapping the legislation would help bring the country “some relief to gay Singaporeans”.

 

 

Lee did, however, go on to emphasize the government’s continued support for a traditional, heterosexual definition of marriage, maintaining that “marriage should be between a man and a woman”.

Singapore will “protect the definition of marriage from being challenged constitutionally in the courts”, he said, adding he will amend the constitution accordingly.

 

Although 377A hasn’t been actively enforced in recent years, LGBTQ+ activists have maintained the legislation ought be scrapped, saying it perpetuates negative stigma against gay people and goes against Singapore’s constitution, which forbids discrimination.

 

Campaigners expressed “relief” following the announcement, saying: “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.”

“For those that long for a more equal and inclusive Singapore, repeal signifies that change is indeed possible,” they said in the statement.

 

“We finally did it, and we’re ecstatic that this discriminatory, antiquated law is finally going to be off the books. There’s a sense that maybe it took a little too long, but it had to happen, you know. Today we are very, very happy,” activist Johnson Ong told the BBC.

 

However, not everyone was quite so quick to celebrate.

 

“This continues to entrench the discrimination against same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals,” said Roy Ngerng, a Singaporean blogger and activist, who described the repeal as “window dressing”.

 

While a joint statement by 22 groups – including Pink Dot SG, Ready 4 Repeal and Sayoni – said any constitutional amendment that signalled that LGBTQ+ people were unequal citizens would be “disappointing”.

“Such a decision will undermine the secular character of our constitution, codify further discrimination into supreme law, and tie the hands of future parliaments,” the groups said.

 

Section 337A made private, consensual gay sex punishable by up to two years in prison. No exact date for the formal repeal of Section 377A has yet been given.