PRhyme Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday that Singapore will repeal a law that criminalizes sex between men, but it is not good news for LGBT rights.
Lee said in a National Day speech that the tightly-run city-state would scrap the law because it was “the right thing to do”. However, he also promised to strengthen the defense of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
“We have to find the right way to reconcile and accommodate both the traditional mores of our society and the desire of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted,” he said.
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Home Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam said on Straits Times Monday that the Southeast Asian city-state’s constitution will be amended to give the legislature the right to define marriage. The move is expected to prevent challenges to heteronormative marriage laws on constitutional grounds.
LGBT activists say the change will deal a major blow to equality. “Such a decision would undermine the secular nature of our constitution, codify further discrimination into supreme law and tie the hands of future parliaments,” more than 20 LGBTQ rights groups said in a joint statement.
A television screen (R) seen through the window of a residential apartment shows a live feed of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his National Day speech in Singapore on August 21, 2022.
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Asia’s conservative reaction
Of course, the repeal of Act 377A, which makes gay sex punishable by up to two years in prison – is welcome. Lew Yangfa, executive director of Singaporean LGBTQ community organization Oogachaga, told TIME that the move “sends an important signal from the government that we are taking the first step towards equality and progress for the LGBTQ community.”
SAFE, an organization of parents, family members and friends of LGBTQ people, said the move was “the beginning of healing for many families.”
But the proposed constitutional amendment darkens the mood. “We believe this is not only a blow to the gay community, but to Singapore as a whole,” Clement Tan, a spokesman for the non-profit organization Pink Dot SGsays TIME.
Singapore now joins other places in Asia caught between appeasing a conservative electorate and wanting to appear progressive. Taiwan made waves when it approved same-sex unions in 2019but his LGBT community stood up immediately reverse reaction and it endures continued discrimination. Taiwan law as well imposes restrictions do not encounter heterosexual couples.
Thailand took a small step toward marriage equality in June when lawmakers gave initial approval to legalize same-sex unions. But activists say legislative hurdles remain and that the country does not live to his LGBT-friendly image.
Activists insisted yes improving LGBT rights in Japan. But in June, a court in the country’s third-most populous city ruled that the freedom to marry in the constitution only applies to unions of men and women, and that Japan prohibition on same-sex marriage is therefore constitutional.
Supporters attend the annual Pink Dot event in a public show of support for the LGBT community at Hong Lim Park in Singapore on June 18, 2022.
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Although an Ipsos survey published in June found that 45% of Singaporeans are more accepting of same-sex relationships than they were three years ago, the same survey also found that 44% supported the continued criminalization of sex between men. SAFE also says that “institutionalized discrimination against LGBTQ people exists in public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards, and film classification.”
Religious groups have reacted badly for the repeal of 377A. Singapore’s National Council of Churches said the move weakened the legislation’s role as a “moral beacon”. The organization wants the government to guarantee the freedom of churches to preach against gay sex.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore warned against “a slippery slope of no return, weakening the fabric of a strong society that rests on the foundation of holistic families and marriages”.
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Pink Dot’s Tan says there could now be a backlash against the LGBT community and expects the conversation to heat up in the coming weeks when the issue is debated in parliament.
The 377A law “has taken a heavy toll on many LGBTQ people,” he says. “However, its repeal does not mean that discrimination against LGBTQ people will immediately disappear. There is much work to be done to change misconceptions and promote community understanding.”
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