Gays hail Singapore’s sex ban repeal, see long way to equality
SINGAPORE (AP) — Singapore’s gay community on Monday hailed a plan to decriminalize sex between men as “a triumph of love over fear,” but warned there was still a long way to go. equality and that new bans on same-sex unions could entrench discrimination against them.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong surprised many when he announced in his speech at the National Day rally on Sunday that the government would repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, a colonial-era law that made sex between men punishable by two years in prison.
Since 2007, when Parliament last debated whether to repeal Section 377A, its position has been to uphold the law but not enforce it. But Lee said societal norms had changed significantly and many Singaporeans would now accept decriminalization.
Lee, however, promised that the repeal would be limited and would not undermine Singapore’s traditional family and societal norms, including the definition of marriage, what is taught to children in schools, what is shown on television and conduct of the general public.
He said the government would amend the constitution to “safeguard the institution of marriage” and prevent any constitutional challenge to allow same-sex unions.
The timing of the repeal or constitutional change was not disclosed.
More than 20 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups – including Pink Dot SG which organizes an annual rally that draws thousands of supporters – said the repeal was long overdue to show that “state-sanctioned discrimination has no place in Singapore”.
They called it a “hard-won victory, a triumph of love over fear” that will finally allow victims of bullying, rejection and harassment to heal. However, the groups said the repeal was just “the first step on a long road to full equality for LGBTQ people” among other areas of discrimination they face at home, in schools. schools, workplaces and in housing and health systems.
They expressed disappointment with the government’s plans to introduce new laws or constitutional amendments to ban same-sex unions that flag LGBTQ people as unequal citizens.
Such a move will “undermine the secular character of our constitution, codify further discrimination in supreme law and tie the hands of future parliaments”, they warned.
Religious groups have been cautious in their reaction to Lee’s comments, saying the changes must not impede their religious freedom to express opinions about public morals or cause “reverse discrimination” on those who do not support the homosexuality.
Christian and Muslim groups have said heterosexual marriage must be protected in the constitution before Section 377A is repealed and that there should be no further liberalization of policies.
“We ask the government for assurances that the religious freedom of churches will be protected as we continue to teach against and bring to light gay sex acts,” the National Council of Churches said in a statement. Pastors and church workers must be protected from accusations of “hate speech” and not be forced to adopt only “LGBTQ-affirming” strategies in their councils, he said.
The council expressed concern that the repeal could lead to the expansion of LGBTQ culture and called for redress for Christians who face “reverse discrimination”.
The Alliance of Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches in Singapore, which represents more than 80 local churches, was more blunt, calling it a “hugely regrettable decision”.
“The decision to remove such an important moral marker as S377A signals a rewriting of acceptable sexual relationships and celebrates homosexuality as characteristic of a dominant social environment,” he said.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said the church does not seek to criminalize the LGBQT community but to protect family and marriage and its rights to teach and practice unhindered on these subjects.
Singapore’s top Islamic leader, Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, said the repeal was a “tough balancing act” and that measures to preserve traditional values were crucial.
“Even though we cling to different values, aspirations and orientations, I don’t think we should let hatred and contempt for differences prevail,” he told Channel News Asia.
Section 377A was introduced under British colonial rule in the 1930s. A version of the law survives in other former British colonies, including neighboring Malaysia.
But the laws have been liberalized in recent years in Asia. India’s top court decriminalized gay sex in a 2018 ruling. Taiwan became the first Asian government to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019, and Thailand recently approved plans to allow same-sex unions.
National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the repeal could set the stage for future challenges to the constitution.
“On the surface it looks like one step forward, two steps back, but my feeling is that repeal could be seen as a foot in the door, which could pave the way for future challenges to the constitution on the current definition of family and marriage,” Tan said.
Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
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