While Singapore’s government has legalised anal and oral sex between heterosexuals, it has chosen to retain a law criminalising consenting sex between men.

The change came as part of the biggest revision to Singapore’s Penal Code in over 20 years. Advocates for the repeal of Article 377A, which bans gay sex, argued that lifting these legal barriers against same-sex relationships would send a message that Singapore did not tolerate homophobia; that it was a modern state and free from the British colonial legacy of homophobia. Opponents of the repeal argued that Singapore society is too conservative and not ready to accept homosexuality.

The outcome was not unexpected, nevertheless gay rights advocates in Singapore found the fact that same-sex relationships were discussed in a public forum to be significant.

As lesbian activist Eileena Lee wrote, “I never thought I would live to see the day that this is debated openly in Singapore….This is definitely history in the making and I am glad to be here to witness this moment.”

During the parliamentary debate on the repeal, MP Charles Chong said that, “If it’s true that some of us are indeed born with a different sexual orientation then it would be wrong of us to criminalise and persecute people who do no harm to us, no matter how conservative a society we are. Intimate relationships between consenting adults in the privacy of one’s bedroom are not the business of government.”

An opponent, Ms. Thio Li Ann, however argued that, “Demands for homosexual rights are political claims of a narrow interest group masquerading as legal entitlements.” She added, “Homosexual activists try to infiltrate and highjack the noble cause of human rights. You cannot make a human wrong a human right.”

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission wrote to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, arguing that repealing bans of sex between heterosexuals while keeping the ban of gay sex would relegate LGBT people to the status of second-class citizens, with no protection from discrimination and no rights as sexual minorities.

Speaking to parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that, “On moral values with consequences for wider society, we must be careful about radical departures from social norms and not be carried away by what other societies do…. We must not allow activists to champion gay rights like they do in the West.”

With this, Mr. Lee called for patience: “The claim for gay rights should evolve gradually…as attitudes around the world change, this will influence attitudes of Singaporeans.”

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