Singapore to Legalize Homosexuality, Maintain Gay Marriage Ban

August 22, 2022 Topic: Singapore Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: SingaporeLGBTQGay MarriageHuman Rights

Singapore to Legalize Homosexuality, Maintain Gay Marriage Ban

Over the past half-decade, a series of Asian nations have enacted increasing legal protections for LGBT citizens.


Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday that his government supported the repeal of Section 377A of the Singaporean penal code, a colonial-era law prohibiting homosexual activity between men—making the small Asian city-state the third nation in southeast Asia to legalize homosexuality, following Thailand and India.

During his televised announcement, Lee stressed the importance of finding a balance between “the aspiration of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted” and the views of Singapore’s traditionally conservative society. The prime minister noted that most Singaporeans supported the removal of Section 377A, suggesting that attitudes had changed in the country over time.


“I believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will accept,” Lee said. 

Although Singapore’s penal code would require a formal amendment by the country’s parliament, Lee’s statement of support for the amendment virtually guarantees its passage. The prime minister concurrently serves as the secretary-general of the People’s Action Party, which has dominated Singapore’s politics since its independence and currently holds eighty-three of the country’s 104 parliament seats.

Lee also declared in his statement that the government would seek to explicitly define marriage as a bond between a man and a woman in the country’s constitution, although he did not rule out the possibility of civil unions as a compromise measure.

Section 377A has remained within the penal code since Singapore’s independence from Malaysia in 1965, but it has not been actively enforced since 2007 when the Singaporean parliament agreed not to enforce it as a temporary compromise between LGBT activists and conservative lawmakers. In February 2022, a Singaporean judge went a step further, ruling that the law could not be legally enforced by the police or court system unless the country’s attorney general publicly declared the resumption of enforcement—making the law’s abolition largely symbolic.

However, Singaporean LGBT advocates celebrated Lee’s announcement as a significant victory, arguing that the law had perpetuated a social stigma against gay people and its repeal would help to normalize them in Singaporean society.

Over the past half-decade, a series of Asian nations have enacted increasing legal protections for LGBT citizens. Although Thailand has never criminalized LGBT activity in the modern era, it comprehensively banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2015, and in 2018, India’s Supreme Court abolished its own version of Section 377 in its entirety. In all of Asia, however, only Taiwan has explicitly legalized same-sex marriage.

In spite of Section 377A’s repeal, other LGBT-related laws continue to be enforced in Singapore, including a rule that bans the “promotion or glamorization of the homosexual lifestyle” and obliges the government to censor such content in Singaporean and foreign media.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.