Singapore set to decriminalise homosexuality


The decriminalisation of homosexuality by Singapore could have a major impact in the region (Photo: Ray in Manila)

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says it is time to repeal the nation’s law that criminalises same-sex activity between men.

Loong made the ground-breaking announcement in a speech at the country’s National Day Rally on Sunday.

If implemented, this will repeal Section 377A, a colonial-era law that criminalises acts of ‘gross indecency’ between men.

“Like every human society, we also have gay people in our midst. They are our fellow Singaporeans. They are our colleagues, our friends, our family members. They too want to live their own lives, participate in our community, and contribute fully to Singapore,” said the prime minister.

“We need to find the right way to reconcile and accommodate both the traditional mores of our society, and the aspiration of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted.”

Loong asserted that “From the national point of view, private sexual behaviour between consenting adults does not raise any law-and-order issue. There is no justification to prosecute people for it, nor to make it a crime.”

He continued: “For these reasons, the government will repeal S377A and decriminalise sex between men. I believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will now accept. This will bring the law into line with current social mores, and I hope, provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.”

Lee added that while S377A would be repealed, the government will still “uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage” to ensure that “only marriages between one man and one woman are recognised in Singapore.”

The announcement follows almost a decade of legal cases, launched by members of Singapore’s LGBT community and their lawyers, that have sought to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A of the Penal Code.

“This decision is incredibly significant not only for Singapore but for its wider signalling effect across Asia and the world, where millions of people are still criminalised based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Téa Braun, Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust. “The tide continues to turn decisively against countries that maintain these stigmatising laws.”

Leow Yangfa, Executive Director of Oogachaga, a community-based, non-profit organisation working with LGBT people in Singapore, welcomed the news that the government will repeal Section 377A through parliament.

“This means a lot to the LGBT community. Decriminalisation will not only improve the lives of LGBT people and their families but will bring other obvious benefits to business, trade and Singapore’s international reputation, making this announcement welcome on many fronts. We eagerly look forward to constructive debate in parliament in the coming months,” said Leow.

Although prosecutions were rare, any male who committed any act of ‘gross indecency’ with another male could be jailed for up to two years, regardless of consent. This also extended to any male who abetted, procured or attempted to procure such an act.

While Section 377A only targets male same-sex intimacy, activists in Singapore say that the culture of shame and homophobia it engenders casts a shadow of oppression over the whole lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

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