Singapore to decriminalize gay sex, but limit change

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Singapore announced Sunday it will decriminalize sex between men, repealing a colonial-era law while protecting the city-state’s traditional rules and definition of marriage.

During his speech at the annual National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he believed it was the “right thing to do now” as most Singaporeans would now accept it.

“Private sexual conduct between consenting adults does not raise any law and order issues. There is no justification for prosecuting people for this or calling it a crime,” Lee said. “This will bring the law in line with current social mores and hopefully provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.”

Lee promised that the repeal would be limited and would not shake Singapore’s traditional family and social norms, including how marriage is defined, what children are taught in schools, what is shown on television and general public behavior.

He said the government would amend the constitution to ensure there could be no constitutional challenge to allow same-sex marriage.

“Even when we repeal Article 377A, we will uphold and preserve the institution of marriage,” Lee said. “We have to amend the Constitution to protect it. And we will. This will help us to repeal Section 377A in a controlled and careful manner.”

Section 377A of the Penal Code was introduced under British colonial rule in the 1930s. British rule on the island ended in 1963 when Singapore became a state of Malaysia. It became independent two years later, but retained the Penal Code, which made sex between men punishable by up to two years in prison.

Since 2007, when Parliament last debated whether to repeal section 377A, its position has been to maintain the law but not enforce it.

But gay men say the law hangs over their heads and discriminates against them. Thousands of activists annually organize a rally in the city-state known as the “Pink Dot” to support the LGBTQ community.

Lee said he hoped the government’s move would reconcile and satisfy both the concerns of conservative religious groups and the wishes of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted.

“All groups should show restraint because that is the only way we can move forward as a nation together,” he said. “I hope the new balance will allow Singapore to remain a tolerant and inclusive society for many years to come.”

One of Lee’s nephews, Li Huanwu, is gay. His estranged younger brother Lee Hsien Yang’s son married his partner in South Africa in 2019. Li Huanwu has attended Pink Dot events with his partner and parents.

Other former British colonies still maintain similar laws criminalizing sex between men, including neighboring Malaysia where a former deputy prime minister was jailed twice for sodomy. He was convicted in 2000 and again in 2014, in cases that critics say were politically motivated.

In 2018, India decriminalized gay sex after its Supreme Court in a historic ruling struck down Article 377 which made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Some Asian countries have also moved to legalize same-sex marriage, with Taiwan being the first in 2019. Thailand also recently approved plans to allow same-sex unions.

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