February 4, 2023

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Singapore lifts ban on gay sex but limits prospects for legalizing same-sex marriage

Reuters —

Singapore’s parliament on Tuesday decriminalized sex between men, but in a blow to the LGBT community also amended the constitution to prevent court cases that have led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in other countries.

The moves come as other parts of Asia, including Taiwan, Thailand and India, recognize more rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.

Activists welcomed the repeal but said the constitutional change is disappointing because it means citizens cannot raise legal challenges on issues such as the definition of marriage, family and related policies, which are decided only by the executive and legislature.

The government has defended the constitutional amendment, saying that decisions on such issues should not be made by courts. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his successor have ruled out any change to the current legal definition of marriage between a man and a woman.

“We will try to maintain a balance… to maintain a stable society with traditional, heterosexual family values, but with space for homosexuals to live their lives and contribute to society,” Interior Minister K. Shanmugam said in parliament this week.

Both the repeal and the constitutional amendment were overwhelmingly passed thanks to the dominance of the ruling People’s Action Party in parliament. It is not yet clear when the new laws will come into force.

However, the changes leave room for a future parliament to extend the definition of marriage to include same-sex relationships.

Bryan Choong, chairman of LGBTQ advocacy group Oogachaga, said it was a historic moment for activists who have campaigned for 15 years to repeal the law known as Section 377A. But he added that LGBT couples and families “have the right to be recognized and protected,” too.

In Singapore, attitudes towards LGBT issues have shifted towards a more liberal stance in recent years, particularly among young people, although conservative attitudes among religious groups remain. According to a poll by the Institute of Policy Studies, about 42% of 18-25 year olds accepted same-sex marriage in 2018, up from 17% just five years earlier.