Singapore to decriminalize gay sex and protect marriage law

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FILE – Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers a speech during a session of the International Conference on ‘The Future of Asia’ in Tokyo Thursday, May 26, 2022. Singapore has announced it will decriminalize sexual relations between men by repealing a colonial-era law while protecting the city-state’s definition of marriage. During his speech on Sunday August 21 at the annual National Day rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he thought it was the “right thing to do now” because most Singaporeans would accept it from now on. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, file)

PA

Singapore will decriminalize sex between men by repealing a colonial-era law, but will amend the constitution to ensure same-sex marriage is not permitted, the city-state leader said on Sunday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he thought repealing the law was the “right thing to do now” because most Singaporeans would now accept decriminalization.

“Private sexual behavior between consenting adults does not raise public order concerns. There is no justification for prosecuting people for this or making it a crime,” Lee said. “It will bring the law into line with current social mores and hopefully bring some relief to gay Singaporeans.”

During his speech at the annual National Day rally, Lee promised that the repeal would be limited and would not undermine Singapore’s traditional family and societal norms, including the definition of marriage, which 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 allow same-sex marriage.

“Even if we repeal Section 377A, we will uphold and protect the institution of marriage,” Lee said. “We need to amend the constitution to protect it. And we will. This will help us repeal Section 377A in a controlled and prudent manner.

Section 377A of the Penal Code was introduced under British colonial rule in the 1930s. British rule over the island ended in 1963 when Singapore became a state of Malaysia. It became independent two years later, but retained the Penal Code, which made sex between men punishable by up to two years in prison.

Since 2007, when Parliament last debated whether to repeal Section 377A, its position has been to uphold the law but not enforce it.

But homosexuals say that the law weighs on them and discriminates against them. Thousands of activists hold a rally in the city-state known as the “Pink Point” every year to support the LGBTQ community.

Lee said he hoped the government’s decision would help reconcile and address the concerns of conservative religious groups and the desires of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted.

“All groups need to exercise restraint because that’s the only way we can move forward together as a nation,” he said. “I hope 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 younger brother’s son, Lee Hsien Yang, married his partner in South Africa in 2019. Li Huanwu attended Pink Dot events with his partner and his parents.

Other former British colonies still retain similar laws that criminalize sex between men, including neighboring Malaysia where a former deputy prime minister was jailed twice for sodomy. He was convicted in 2000 and again in 2014, in cases that critics say were politically motivated.

In 2018, India decriminalized same-sex sex after its Supreme Court in a landmark decision struck down Section 377 which punished same-sex sex with up to 10 years in prison. Some Asian governments have also moved to legalize same-sex marriage, with Taiwan being the first in 2019. Thailand also recently approved plans to allow same-sex unions.

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