The Prime Minister of powerful island nation Singapore has announced he will repeal a colonial-era law criminalizing sex between men.
Singapore will decriminalize sex between men but has no plans to change the legal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday as part of an annual national address titled the National Day Rally 2022.
LGBTQ groups welcomed Lee’s decision to repeal Section 377A of the penal code, a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex between men, but also expressed disappointment that same-sex marriage in Singapore would apparently never become a reality.
In his annual national day rally speech, Lee said Singaporean society, especially young people in the city-state, were becoming more accepting of gay people and therefore the government needed to bring the laws forward.
“I believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will now accept,” he said.
It was unclear exactly when Section 377A will be repealed and the announcement also came with a caveat that although sex between men will not be criminalized, same-sex marriage will remain out fo reach for LGBTQ Singaporeans, with the government “upholding” marriage as a traditional institution for a man and a woman.
Singapore is the latest Asian country to move toward ending discrimination against the LGBTQ community. In 2018, India’s highest court repealed its ban on gay sex, while Thailand has recently moved closer to the idea of legalizing same-sex unions.
Under Singapore’s Section 377A, offenders can be jailed for up to two years under the law, but there have been no known convictions for sex between consenting adult males for decades — and the law does not include sex between women or other genders.
Several LGBTQ rights groups said in a joint statement they were “relieved” by Lee’s announcement.
“For everyone who has experienced the kinds of bullying, rejection and harassment enabled by this law, repeal finally enables us to begin the process of healing. For those that long for a more equal and inclusive Singapore, repeal signifies that change is indeed possible,” they said in the statement.
But the groups also urged the government not to heed calls from religious conservatives to enshrine the definition of marriage in the constitution, saying this would signal that LGBTQ+ citizens were not equal.