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Singapore repeals gay sex ban but blocks same-sex marriage

singapore gay couple
  • Singapore’s colonial-era Section 377A, which prescribed a prison sentence of up to two years for men who engaged in any kind of sexual activity with other men, was officially repealed on Tuesday.

  • The city-state’s parliament also amended the constitution to effectively block equal marital rights for LGBTQ-plus couples by strengthening the current legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

  • Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on Facebook that both of the constitutional changes were "balanced, wise steps forward.”

  • Singaporean members of the LGBTQ-plus community have expressed hope that the repeal of 377A could someday pave the way for equal marital rights.

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Singapore has officially repealed a colonial-era law that criminalized sex between men, the city-state’s parliament announced this week.

Section 377A, which had been condemned by advocates as discriminatory, prescribed a  prison sentence of up to two years for men who engaged in any kind of sexual activity with other men, reported the AFP news agency.

While Singapore has not enforced the law in decades, local LGBTQ-plus activists welcomed the repeal, with advocacy group Pink Dot calling it a “historic milestone for LGBTQ+ equality.”

Law Minister K. Shanmugam pointed out at Parliament on Monday that since sex between men is not related to “public order issues,” it should not be criminalized. 

Shanmugam highlighted the importance of lifting the ban because leaving the decision to the courts could have “consequences on family policies.”

But while Singapore’s parliament officially decriminalized sex between men on Tuesday, it also amended the constitution to effectively block equal marital rights for LGBTQ-plus couples by strengthening the current legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

The constitutional amendment has made legal options to establish equal marital rights for LGBTQ-plus people more challenging to pursue. 

According to Shanmugam, parliament saw the need to protect the existing definition of marriage as the repeal of 377A poses potential challenges to “heterosexual structure” as well as all government policies based on it.

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, who argued that the traditional definition of family is the bedrock of society, said: “Religious leaders or any licensed solemniser for that matter cannot solemnise a same-sex couple. This is against the law.” 

He did, however, concede that the law may be revised in the future when social attitudes change toward the issue. 

In a Facebook post, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote that both of the constitutional changes were “balanced, wise steps forward.”

“The outcome itself is significant. We are decriminalizing sex between men — a longstanding issue, and not just for gay Singaporeans,” he wrote. “At the same time we are protecting the definition of marriage — as a union between a man and a woman — from Constitutional challenge. Taken together, these are balanced, wise steps forward.”

Singaporean members of the LGBTQ-plus community have expressed hope that the repeal of 377A could someday pave the way for future progress. 

“I guess it is an uneasy thing to swallow right now,” 39-year-old gay man Benjamin Xue told AFP, noting that the repeal could initiate “opening up the doors to have that frank conversation about our queer lives in Singapore.”

“The repeal takes away a lot of the shame. I think people are going to come out a lot more and young people are going to find that the future might be a bit brighter,” he added. 

 

Featured Image via Julie Rose

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