Why changing Singapore’s gay sex law is a double-edged sword for LGBT activists

At a second glance, it seemed to many that it was a double-edged sword.

This is because to put an end to this law, the Singapore government has reiterated its opposition to same-sex marriage.

Shortly after declaring that consensual same-sex sex was no longer illegal, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his annual address to the rally in August that his government would “support and protect the institution of marriage” – defined in the constitution as a union between a man and women.

The move appears to be aimed at reaching a compromise with conservative segments of society that remain staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage. Christianity is the third most popular religion in Singapore after Buddhism and Taoism, and covers nearly one in five Singaporeans according to the 2020 census. Meanwhile, the city-state is home to several huge evangelical churches that preach against homosexuality.

In his speech, Lee noted that gay rights remain an “extremely sensitive and controversial” issue for the country’s conservatives.

“What we seek is a political settlement, a balance between legitimate opinions and aspirations among Singaporeans,” Lee said.

“But everyone has to accept that no (one) group can do things their way,” he added.

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For gay rights activists, the ongoing ban on same-sex marriage is a huge blow. At stake is more than the option of having a white church wedding: In Singapore, couples in registered marriages have greater access to housing subsidies and adoption rights than singles.

So, while activists in the LGBTQ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gay people) welcomed the repeal of the gay sex law, many were also disappointed.

This disappointment will only deepen with some Lee ministers suggesting that the government will not only remain opposed to same-sex marriage but may also create additional obstacles to prevent people from seeking to challenge marriage laws in court.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in an interview with state media that Parliament, not the courts, has the power to define marriage – making it difficult for people to legally challenge government policies as many gay men have attempted in recent years.

This has played out well with some conservative religious groups.

“We are pleased that the government has indicated that it will take steps to protect the norms and values ​​prevailing in Singaporean society on the issue of marriage,” Archbishop Titus Chung said in a statement issued on behalf of the Archdiocese of Singapore.

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The National Council of Churches, made up of several local churches and Christian organizations, said its members “appreciate” the government’s assurance that it would “uphold and preserve the institution of marriage.”

The Catholic Church in Singapore also welcomed the government’s move. “Otherwise, we will take a slippery path of no return, weakening the strong fabric of society that rests on a solid foundation of inclusive families and marriages,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, activists expressed disappointment.

“Any move by the government to introduce more legislation or constitutional amendments that refer to LGBT people as unequal citizens is disappointing,” more than 20 activist groups said in a joint statement.

“This is not the end”

However, some activists say they prefer to focus on the positives, at least for now.

As Associate Professor of Law Eugene Tan of Singapore Management University said: “Singapore has repealed a law that had long been considered discrimination against gay men. Viewing the current situation as removing a ban in favor of retaining another ignores the progress made.”

In 2012, Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, a gay couple who had been together for 15 years, challenged an anti-gay sex act in Singapore’s Supreme Court.

“For us, the repeal (of the gay sex law) was not about same-sex marriage,” the couple said. “We both feel relieved that after ten years, it (cancellation) happened during our lifetimes.”

A gay rights advocate at the annual Pink Dot event in Singapore.

But they admit their disappointment with the government’s statements about marriage.

“We were expecting it to happen, but it’s not the end,” Lim said. “The work doesn’t stop and with this cancellation things will only get stronger and move forward while the queer community recovers.”

“Marriage would be a wonderful acknowledgment of our relationship and our love for each other, but at this point, that’s not the most important thing,” Che said.

“But (it baffles me) how our marriage will affect straight marriages, that I don’t understand,” he added.

“I hope one day conservatives will see that gays are not dangerous or a threat to them or their children. They don’t have to fear us.”

“Maybe in the future we can all establish a relationship and work together.”

CNN’s Jan Kamensand Brumby contributed to this article.

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