Singapore will criminalize gay sex, but will limit change

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Singapore announced on Sunday that it would criminalize sex between men by repealing a colonial-era law protecting the city-state’s traditional norms 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 behavior between consenting adults does not raise any law and order issue. There is no justification for it to prosecute people nor to make it a crime.

Lee resolved that the repeal would be limited and 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 conduct.

He said the government would amend the constitution to ensure that there was no constitutional challenge to allowing same-sex marriage.

“Even when we repeal Section 377A, we will uphold and protect the institution of marriage,” Lee said. “We have to amend the constitution to protect it. And we will do that. This will help us to control and meticulously repeal Section 377A.

Section 377A of the Penal Code was introduced under the British colonial rule in the 1930s. British rule over 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 was to uphold the law, but not to implement it.

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

Lee said he hoped the government’s move would help reconcile and accommodate both the concerns of conservative religious groups and the desire to respect and accept gay Singaporeans.

“All groups must exercise restraint, as we can move forward together as a nation. I hope the new balance will enable Singapore to remain a tolerant and inclusive society for many years to come,” he said.

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

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

In 2018, India decriminalized gay sex after its Supreme Court struck down Section 377 in a landmark decision, which made homosexual sex a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Some Asian countries have also moved to legalize gay marriageThailand recently approved plans to allow same-sex unions for the first time in 2019, along with Taiwan.

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