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Singapore could repeal a longstanding legislation that criminalises sex between men in the midst of rising backlash from religious groups.

The Singapore parliament is reviewing Section 377A of the Penal code which criminalises consensual sexual conduct between males, exempting women who have sex with other women.

Section 377A states: “Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.”

Human Rights Watch has also condemned the code as a “relic of British colonialism.”

“The law is archaic, discriminatory and inconsistent with human rights, including to non-discrimination, privacy and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention,” it said.

What have the courts ruled?

On February 28 2022, the Singapore Court of Appeal ruled that Section 377A cannot be used to prosecute male partners who have engaged in consensual sexual activity in private.

Despite the ruling, the court failed to declare the code as unconstitutional.

Sinapore Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in July that the issue should be discussed in parliament as “many agree that men who have sex with each other should not be thrown into prison.”

“Gay sex should not be criminalised,” he said.

“At the same time, most do not want any decriminalisation to cause other major changes.”

Mr Shanmugan said most people want the current definition on marriage to be retained.

“And the current position is that the law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. People don’t want that to change,” he said.

The government is “considering how we can safeguard the current legal position on marriage from being challenged in the Courts, so that it does not get challenged like the way Section 377A was in a series of cases,” Mr Shanmugam said.

What have LGBTQ+ and religious groups said?

Singapore LGBTQ+ activists Ready4Appeal expressed their disappointment with the court’s ruling which “comes as a setback for all who were hoping for a resounding conclusion to this decades-long fight for equality.”

“Despite recognising the current situation as deeply unsatisfactory for the LGBTQ+ community, the Court of Appeal has still decided to retain the law, albeit with legal assurances on its unenforceability,” they said.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said while they “respect the dignity of LGBTQR persons, they should too respect our rights to maintain our position on marriage.”

“Marriage is between a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of life and love, where both partners complement each other,” they said in a statement.

“Should Section 377A of the Penal Code be repealed, our concern is for marriage between a man and a woman to remain the institution of nature that is safeguarded and even enshrined in the Constitution of the country as the natural structure of human society.”

What has been the global reaction?

The Human Rights Watch is urging the Singapore parliament to repeal Section 377A as a “first step towards protecting and promoting the human rights of LGBTQ+ individuals in Singapore.”

“Until there is a full repeal of Section 377A, the Singapore authorities should ensure that no investigations are carried out by any law enforcement authorities into private consensual same-sex sexual activity between men.”

The non-governmental organisation also called on law makers to ensure their public support for protecting LGBTQ+ persons are “translated into concrete action by enacting comprehensive anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

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