Singapore has repealed a law which criminalised sex between men, making it effectively legal to be gay on the island city-state. This marks a major breakthrough for LGBTQ+ rights on the island, and an important victory for the Singaporean activists who have been campaigning for this reform for years.
The decision was announced yesterday (August 21) by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who acknowledged that Singapore has seen a major shift in societal attitudes towards homosexuality during the last 15 years. “Private sexual behaviour between consenting adults does not raise any law and order issue. There is no justification to prosecute people for it nor to make it a crime,” he said, adding that it was “the right thing to do and something that most Singaporeans will now accept.”
The law in question – 377a – was originally introduced under British colonial rule, serving as yet another example of how British imperialism has had a disastrous and enduring legacy for LGBTQ+ people around the world. Singapore opted to retain the law when it achieved independence in 1965, but since 2007, the government has adopted a policy of not actively enforcing it. This meant that gay men no longer faced a prison sentence up of to two years for “any act of gross indecency with another male person”, and allowed the emergence of both a visible gay rights movement and a thriving queer scene on the island.
But even though the law was inactive, determined LGBTQ+ activists have spent years challenging it in court, arguing that its mere existence perpetuates stigma and stands in the way of a truly equal society. A joint statement signed by various LGBTQ+ groups heralded the repeal, saying that it represents “a significant milestone and a powerful statement that state-sanctioned discrimination has no place in Singapore.”
While this is a victory for Singapore’s queer population, there is still work to be done: Prime Minister Lee also made clear that his government will not be considering the introduction of equal marriage. During his speech, he announced his intention to change Singapore’s constitution so that marriage is strictly defined as being between a man and a woman. Speaking to AFP, a group of local LGBTQ+ organisations said, “any move by the government to introduce further legislation or constitutional amendments that signal LGBTQ+ people as unequal citizens is disappointing.” The repeal itself is great news, but for queer Singaporeans, the fight isn’t over.