Singapore to decriminalize sex between men, PM says

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  • Under current law, men face up to 2 years in prison for same-sex relations
  • The law has not been actively enforced for decades
  • Prime Minister Lee says Singaporean society is ready for this change
  • Reaffirms support for the traditional definition of marriage

SINGAPORE, Aug 21 (Reuters) – Singapore will decriminalize sex between men but is not considering changing the legal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday.

LGBTQ groups hailed Lee’s decision to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex between men, but also expressed concern that the marriage exclusion gay would contribute to perpetuating discrimination.

In his annual speech at the National Day rally, Lee said Singaporean society, especially the youth of the city-state, was increasingly accepting of gay people.

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“I think it’s the right thing to do, and something most Singaporeans will now accept,” he said.

It was unclear when exactly Section 377A would be repealed.

Singapore becomes the latest Asian country to take action to end discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.

In 2018, India’s highest court dropped a colonial era prohibition on gay sex, while Thailand has recently moved closer to legalizing same-sex unions.

Under Singapore’s Section 377A, offenders can be imprisoned for up to two years under the law, but it is currently not actively enforced. There have been no known convictions for sex between consenting adult men for decades and the law does not include sex between women or other sexes.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) groups have filed multiple lawsuits to try to overturn the law, but none have succeeded.

On Sunday, several LGBTQ rights groups said in a joint statement that they were “relieved” by Lee’s announcement.

“For anyone who has experienced the kinds of bullying, rejection and harassment allowed by this law, the repeal finally allows us to begin the healing process. For those who yearn for a more equal and inclusive Singapore, the Repeal means that change is indeed possible,” they said in the statement.

But the groups have also urged the government to ignore calls from religious conservatives to enshrine the definition of marriage in the constitution, saying it would signal that LGBTQ+ citizens are not equal.

RESISTANCE

In February, Singapore’s highest court had ruled that since the law was not enforced, it did not violate constitutional rights, as the plaintiffs had argued, and it reiterated that the law could not be used to prosecute men for having gay sex.

Some religious groups, including Muslims, Catholics and some Protestants, continued to resist any repeal of the law, Lee said.

An alliance of more than 80 churches expressed strong disappointment on Sunday with the government’s decision.

“The repeal is an extremely regrettable decision that will have a profound impact on the culture in which our children and future generations of Singaporeans will live,” he said.

Singapore is a multi-racial and multi-religious society of 5.5 million people, about 16% of whom are Muslim, with larger Buddhist and Christian communities. It has a predominantly ethnic Chinese population with significant Malay and Indian minorities, according to the 2020 census.

Highlighting his government’s continued support for the traditional definition of marriage, Lee said, “We believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, that children should be raised within these families, that the traditional family should be the cornerstone of the company.”

Singapore will “protect the definition of marriage from any constitutional challenge in court,” he said. “This will help us repeal Section 377A in a controlled and carefully considered manner.”

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Reporting by Chen Lin, editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Gareth Jones

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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