Last Monday, Singapore's Prime Minister announced that his government would repeal the colonial-era ban on same-sex relationships, a move welcomed by LGBTQ activists and community members. But don't be too quick to rejoice because everything about the announcement was far from positive.
The decision to repeal Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code, which condemned same-sex sexual intercourses by a two-year jail term, was widely seen as a victory for LGBTQ+ rights in the city-state. Although the colonial-era law had not been enforced for decades, its continued presence in legislation not only sent a message that same-sex relationships are not tolerated in Singapore, but for many LGBTQ+ people, it was a source of discrimination.
LGBTQ+ activists, who called it a "hard-won victory" and a "triumph of love over fear," widely celebrated the repeal. However, they cautioned that there is still more work to be done to fully protect the rights of the LGBT community in Singapore.
"Some people do feel that a lot more can be done," said Bryan Choong, the Chair of LGBTQ advocacy group Oogachaga, adding that the 377A repeal was "long overdue."by Author
But while announcing the decriminalization of same-sex relationships, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced his government would stand firm on the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman and protect it from constitutional challenge in the courts. He even proposed to enshrine the marriage equality ban in the constitution.
The Human Rights Watch organization has called the move "a mixed message."
"[We're] noting real progress that revoking article 377A will bring, but raising serious concerns about discrimination if Constitutional amendment on marriage is passed. Eliminating anti-LGBT discrimination is needed across the board," said Phil Robertson, the NGO's Deputy Asia Director.by Author
Bryan Choong makes a strong case when he said that "the doors to this opportunity should not be closed" regarding same-sex couples being allowed to marry.
After all, marriage is an important step for many couples, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Many negative consequences can also result from a marriage ban. For example, same-sex couples are not eligible for government grants and benefits that heterosexual couples receive. This can lead to financial insecurity and difficulty in accessing basic services like healthcare.
Additionally, it can also make it difficult for same-sex couples to resolve joint property and child custody disputes.
Loong's proposal to amend the constitution to ban marriage equality has disappointed the coalition of Singapore's LGBTQ+ groups, who said the move "will undermine the secular character of our constitution, codify further discrimination into supreme law, and tie the hands of future parliaments."
In a disappointing turn of events, the Singapore government has also announced that it will continue to restrict and classify LGBTQ+ media content.
In its statement, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) confirmed that its hard line on LGBTQ+ content would remain in place.
It stated that the repeal of Section 377A did not mean that "we are changing the tone of society" and that LGBTQ+ content would remain banned under 21.
"We will continue to take reference from prevailing norms. LGBTQ media content will continue to warrant higher age ratings," the MCI said in a statement of clarification.by Author
The repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalized same-sex sexual relations, was a significant step forward for the LGBTQ community of the Southeast Asian country.
However, continued media restrictions and a proposed new hurdle on the road to legitimizing legal same-sex marriages pushed many in Singapore to view the new repeal as a small step forward. The fight for equality in Singapore is far from over.