LGBTQ Singaporeans welcome sex law repeal, decry marriage exclusion

LGBTQ Singaporeans welcome sex law repeal, decry marriage exclusion

Gay rights campaigners have long said the law runs counter to the affluent city-state's vibrant culture and have unsuccessfully challenged the law in court.
Gay rights campaigners have long said the law runs counter to the affluent city-state's vibrant culture and have unsuccessfully challenged the law in court.

SINGAPORE: Singapore's LGBTQ community on Monday welcomed the government's plan to decriminalise gay sex but warned that amending the constitution to enshrine the traditional definition of marriage would promote further inequality.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday that the city-state would repeal the colonial-era law, but said the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman will be kept to allay fears of "a drastic shift in our societal norms".

Gay rights campaigners have long said section 377A runs counter to the affluent city-state's vibrant culture and have unsuccessfully challenged the law in court.

Roy Tan, one of several people who had unsuccessfully challenged the law in court, said repealing 377A would make him "feel more like I belonged in Singapore, now that the state no longer regards me as a criminal".

"Removing the stigma wrought by Section 377A would make it easier for more closeted gay men to come out and embrace their sexuality instead of hiding their identities in shame, together with all the psychological damage that it causes," he told AFP.

"Too many elderly LGBT people are living their lives alone and it would be a tragedy if most died solitary and uncared for."

Despite the repeal, Lee's announcement Sunday also put barriers on the path to full marriage equality.

At the moment, people can still challenge the constitutionality of the definition of marriage, but Lee said doing so would risk the court stepping into policy-making.

"Judges interpret and apply the law... They have neither the expertise nor the mandate to settle political questions, nor rule on social norms and values," Lee said.

To prevent that, Lee said that the government will amend the constitution to "safeguard the institution of marriage" -- which will remain defined as between a man and a woman.

Reactions to Lee's Facebook post on repealing the law were mixed, with some lauding the move as a "bold step" while others said they were "saddened" by the decision.

- 'A retrogressive step' -

A move to amend the constitution will likely sail through parliament if undertaken as Lee's ruling People's Action Party has a more than two-thirds majority.

It is unclear what the amendments would look like but the challenges to 377A largely revolved around a constitutional provision that guarantees citizens equality and equal protection under the law.

The LGBTQ community -- in a statement signed by more than 20 groups -- said they opposed to any further laws and constitutional changes to protect the traditional definition of marriage as doing so would promote unequal treatment.

"We urge the government not to heed recent calls from religious conservatives to enshrine the definition of marriage into the constitution," they said in the statement issued late Sunday.

"Such a decision will undermine the secular character of our constitution, codify further discrimination into supreme law, and tie the hands of future parliaments."

Activist Tan called the government's plans to enshrine the traditional definition of marriage in Singapore's constitution as "a retrogressive step".

"It denigrates the worth of same-sex couples and denies them the rights that heterosexual couples enjoy and take for granted," he told AFP.

This would include national policies such as those covering access to subsidised public housing and adoption rules -- which Lee said in Sunday's speech will continue to be available to couples based on the traditional definition.

But Maria Sjodin, executive director at US-based LGBTQ rights group OutRight Action International said even the small step of the repeal could "hopefully also inspire the continued struggle across the world to remove the laws that hinder equality and respect for LGBTQ people everywhere".

According to a 2020 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), homosexuality is prohibited in 69 countries, including 11 where it is punishable by death.


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