First, the good news: Singapore will stop treating sex between men as a crime. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in his National Day Rally speech
on Aug. 21 that Section 377A, a colonial-era law that prohibits sexual relations between consenting men in public and in private, will be repealed. A coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights groups called the government’s decision a “hard-won victory and a triumph of love over fear,” reports the BBC
Section 377A is an archaic and discriminatory law that, while on the books, is not actively enforced. However, LGBTQ activists pointed out that the existence of the law “legitimized the idea that LGBTQ people could be treated differently [and] validated homophobic attitudes,” writes freelance journalist Kirsten Han in her analysis piece in The News Lens
. Section 377A also has trickle-down effects on government sex education policy
in schools and media censorship.
The activists’ joy was tempered, though, by Lee’s announcement that Singapore will not allow same-sex marriages. The prime minister said in his speech that alongside the repeal, his government would “uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage” — defined in the Constitution as a union between man and woman.
Lee said that many national policies — such as public housing, education, and adoption rules — “rely upon this definition of marriage. The Government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage, nor these policies.” He said that the government will “protect the definition of marriage from being challenged constitutionally in the courts.”
Some LGBT groups felt let down by the announcement. In their joint statement
, the groups said: “Any move by the Government to introduce further legislation or constitutional amendments that signal LGBTQ+ people as unequal citizens is disappointing.”
Not allowing same-sex marriage will put gay couples at a disadvantage when it comes to Singapore’s public housing. “The government allows citizens to buy new flats at deeply discounted rates — but only if you are a married couple, or over 35 if you are single,” reports the BBC
Other activists chose to focus on the bright side. SAFE, an organization of parents, families, and friends of LGBTQ persons, said that Lee’s announcement
was “the start of healing for many families with the rest of society.” But while SAFE lauded the government move, it said “institutionalized discrimination” against LGBTQ people remains in Singapore, and appealed for legislation to address it.