News (World)

Singapore decriminalizes gay sex but also prevents marriage equality from becoming law

Singapore, same-sex sex, gay sex, repeal, same-sex marriage Singapore,-,July,1,,2017:,Pink,Dot,Held,Its,9th
Same-sex partners at Singapore's 9th annual Pink Dot LGBTQ event Photo: Shutterstock

Singapore’s parliament decriminalized same-sex sexual intercourse on Tuesday, but it also amended the nation’s constitution to prevent court challenges to legalize same-sex marriage.

The parliament repealed Section 377A of its criminal code. The 1938 law, introduced while Singapore was under British control, outlawed “unnatural… carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” including “penetration.” Singapore’s law punished the act with up to two years in jail, though similar laws remain active in 67 other former British colonies.

The broadly worded law was historically used to prosecute same-sex couples. However, in 2007, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the law would no longer be enforced. It remained on the books however, The Straits Times reported.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on Tuesday that repealing the law was “the right thing to do because there are no public concerns that justify private consensual sex between men being a crime,” The Daily Mail reported.

National LGBTQ advocates have opposed the law for over two decades. In February 2022, the Singapore Court of Appeal held that it could no longer be used to prosecute consenting partners engaged in private sexual activity, Human Rights Watch reported.

But while a majority of the parliament voted to repeal the anti-gay law, it also voted to amend the national constitution to define marriage as a relationship exclusively between a man and a woman. The new amendment also states that changes to the country’s marriage laws must be made exclusively through the executive and legislative branches of government rather than through its judicial courts.

LGBTQ activists say this amendment will prohibit citizens from filing lawsuits to gain marriage rights or change family and related policies, leaving LGBTQ couples and their families unprotected from discrimination and government harassment. It’s unlikely that the largely conservative legislative and executive branches will legalize same-sex marriage anytime soon.

Shanmugam defended the amendment, stating, “We will try and maintain a balance… to uphold a stable society with traditional, heterosexual family values, but with space for homosexuals to live their lives and contribute to society.”

It’s unclear when these recent changes will go into effect. It’s also unclear whether the amendment itself will be found unconstitutional since it eliminates the judicial branch’s check on legislative and executive power.

In response, a coalition of 23 Singaporean nongovernmental organizations issued a joint statement that said, “Any move by the government to introduce further legislation or constitutional amendments that signal LGBTQ+ people as unequal citizens is disappointing.”

 

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