Public discussion on a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex between men is gaining momentum in Singapore, where a senior minister said any easing would ensure the current definition of marriage is protected.
While the government is reviewing the regulation, “at the same time we are considering how can we safeguard the current legal position on marriage from being challenged in the courts,” Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in a Facebook video clip posted on the weekend. “We are now considering how best to achieve this balance.”
Singapore has grappled with how to make its society more inclusive of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community even as some countries around the world move toward recognizing same-sex marriages. Several attempts to overturn the legal ban on sex between men, known as Section 377A of the Penal Code, have failed in courts over the years. Thailand, regarded as conservative and deeply religious, became the first country in Southeast Asia to move toward legalizing same-sex unions this year.
The colonial-era law reflected Singapore’s conservative stance toward the LGBTQ community, and any discussion of changing it in the past has drawn resistance from religious groups. Recent comments from the Catholic Church and an LGBTQ group signal a potential compromise that would address the biggest concerns of both sides: decriminalizing sex between men while stopping short of recognizing same-sex marriages.
Singapore’s Catholic Church said on Sunday it respects the dignity of LGBTQ community, but asked for the right to maintain the position on marriage. “The fruitfulness of marriage also necessitates that marriage must be open to procreation,” the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said in a statement posted on its website. In Singapore’s religiously diverse society, about 19% of Singaporeans identify as Christian, while Buddhism is the largest group with 31%.
A 2014 court challenge against 377A failed when Singapore’s Supreme Court ruled it was a constitutional matter. In February, the Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss three challenges to Section 377A, Channel NewsAsia reported. The law has not been actively enforced for over a decade.
Dealing with 377A, while also maintaining the current legal definition that marriage is between a man and a woman, should be discussed and decided in Parliament and not in the courts, said Shanmugam.
The local LGBTQ community has no immediate plans to mount legal challenges to redefine marriage’s definition, Leow Yangfa, the executive director of rights group Oogachaga, was cited in Today newspaper as saying.
Taiwan is the only Asian jurisdiction that legally recognizes same-sex marriage. Vietnam allows same-sex couples to have symbolic weddings but doesn’t recognize the marriage. Hong Kong doesn’t allow it, but does permit gay expatriate workers to bring their spouses in on dependent visas. Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei have rules that outlaw sexual relations between people of the same gender.