SINGAPORE: A law that bans gay sex in Singapore will be repealed, making homosexuality acceptable in the country. After long years of heated discussions, the decision was made and announced by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong on national television.
Singapore’s LGBT community praised the decision made and called it “a success for humanity.”
The city-state is renowned for its conservatism, but in recent years more and more people have been campaigning for the repeal of the 377A statute from the colonial era. After India, Taiwan, and Thailand, Singapore is one of the most recent countries in Asia to take action on LGBT rights.
In efforts to placate all parties, the government’s previous position would have been to maintain 377A, which would forbid males from having sex with other males, but also committed not to enforce the legislation.
However, Lee announced on Sunday that they would repeal the law because they thought it was the “proper thing to do” and something that most Singaporeans would support. The repeal of 377A, he said, would bring the laws of the nation into step with “contemporary societal mores and, I hope, provide some respite to gay Singaporeans,” since “gay persons are now better accepted.”
“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,” excitedly exclaimed gay activist Johnson Ong in an interview.
It was a “hard-won victory and a triumph of love over fear,” according to a coalition of LGBT rights organisations, they also added that it was the first step toward complete equality.
They also raised a point, where they worry about a different declaration Lee made during the same speech, where he had promised that the government will improve the legal protection of the union of a man and a woman as the definition of marriage which would effectively make it more difficult to legalize gay marriage.
He claimed that many people in Singapore are committed to upholding traditional family values and societal mores. This statement left some LGBT campaigners “disappointed” and cautioned that it would only serve to further institutionalize discrimination in society.
Under Singapore’s Section 377A, offenders can be jailed for up to two years under the law, but it is not currently actively enforced. For decades, there have been no known convictions for sex between consenting adult men, and the law does not cover sex between women or other sexes.
However, in February this year, Singapore’s High Court ruled that because the law was not enforced, it did not violate constitutional rights, as plaintiffs argued, and reaffirmed that the law could not be used to prosecute men for gay sex.
Some religious groups including Muslims, Catholics and some Protestants continued to resist any repeal of the law, Lee said. On Sunday, an alliance of more than 80 churches expressed strong disappointment over the government’s decision.
“The cancellation 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,” the statement said.
Singapore is a multiracial and multi-religious society with a population of 5.5 million, of whom about 16% are Muslim, with larger Buddhist and Christian communities.
Lee emphasised his government’s continued support for the traditional definition of marriage, saying, “We believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, that children should be raised in such families, that the traditional family should form the basic building block of society.”
Singapore will “protect the definition of marriage from constitutional challenge in the courts”, he said. “This will help us repeal Section 377A in a controlled and carefully considered manner.”