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LGBT rights in Singapore

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

LGBT rights in Singapore
LocationSingapore2.png
StatusIllegal for men (unenforced), legal for women[1][2]
PenaltyUp to 2 years jail, caning and fines (unenforced)[2]
Gender identitySex reassignment surgery legal[3]
MilitaryYes under limited roles
Discrimination protectionsYes[4][5]
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo
AdoptionLimited

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Singapore face some challenges not faced by non-LGBT people. Same-sex sexual activity between males is illegal under Section 377A of the Penal Code, even if it is consensual and takes place in private, although the law is not enforced. It is legal among women. In 2022, the Court of Appeal in the Supreme Court reaffirmed that 377A cannot be used to prosecute men for having gay sex,[6][7] and that it is "unenforceable in its entirety".[8]

Same-sex relationships are not recognized under the law, and adoption of children by same-sex couples is illegal, although a gay Singaporean man with a male partner in 2018 won a landmark appeal to adopt a child that he fathered through a surrogate.[9] Furthermore, anti-discrimination protections exists for LGBT people, and hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited.[5][10]

Singaporean society is generally regarded as conservative. Despite this, LGBT events such as Pink Dot have taken place every year since 2009, with increasing attendance. In line with worldwide trends,[11] attitudes towards members of the LGBT community are slowly changing and becoming more accepting and tolerant, especially among young people.[12] In 2022, an Ipsos survey found that only 44% of Singapore residents support the retainment of 377A.[13]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity

Singapore law inherited from the British Empire prohibited sodomy regardless of sex. As such, heterosexual and homosexual anal or oral sex was illegal. In 2007, such sexual activity was legalised for heterosexuals and lesbians, but not for gay men.[1][2]

In June 2019, at the Smart Nation Summit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated that Singapore would keep Section 377A "for some time" saying, "Whatever your sexual orientation is, you're welcome to come and work in Singapore... You know our rules in Singapore. It is the way this society is: We are not like San Francisco, neither are we like some countries in the Middle East. [We are] something in between, it is the way the society is."[14][15]

Statutes

After an exhaustive Penal Code review in 2007, oral and anal sex were legalised for heterosexuals and lesbians. The changes meant that oral and anal sex between consenting heterosexual and female homosexual adults were no longer offences. However, Section 377A, which deals with sexual acts between consenting men, remains in place–albeit unenforced.[1][2]

LGBT rights protesters at a Human Rights Day seminar organised by the Delegation of the European Union to Singapore in December 2014

In his concluding speech on the debate over the partial repeal of Section 377A, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told MPs before the vote that "Singapore is basically a conservative society... The family is the basic building block of this society. And by a family in Singapore, we mean one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit."[16]

Section 377A ("Outrages on decency")

Section 377A states that: "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."[17] Section 377A remains sporadically enforced. Between 2007 and 2013, nine people were convicted under 377A provisions.[18]

Section 354 of the Penal Code ("Outrage of Modesty")

Section 354 provides that if any person uses criminal force on any person intending to outrage, or knowing it would be likely to outrage, the modesty of that person, he shall be imprisoned for a maximum of two years, or with fine, or with caning, or with any two of such punishments. Crimes charged under section 354 require some physical contact involved.[19]

Section 294 of the Penal Code

If the victim of an entrapment operation uses a symbolic gesture to signal intention to have sexual activity with the police decoy, he can be tried under Section 294 of the Penal Code, which covers the commission of any obscene act in any public place to the annoyance of others, subject to a maximum of three months imprisonment, a fine, or both.[20]

Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act

Section 19 (soliciting in a public place) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, which covers both prostitution and soliciting "for any other immoral purpose", can be used to prosecute homosexual activities. This offence carries a fine of up to $1,000, doubling on a subsequent conviction, including a jail term not exceeding six months.[citation needed]

According to documentation by National University of Singapore sociologist Laurence Leong Wai Teng, from 1990 to 1994, there were 11 cases where gay men were charged for soliciting. They were fined between $200 and $500.[21]

Decriminalisation efforts

Human rights activists have been calling for and pushing for the repeal of Section 377A, arguing that it infringes on privacy, the right to life and personal liberty, the two latter being constitutionally protected.[22] In 2007, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) called for the repeal of Section 377A.[23]

In 2012, Tan Eng Hong was found in the company of another man, and was initially charged with Section 377A but later pled guilty to a lesser charge. Tan decided to pursue his case against Section 377A on the grounds that it was inconsistent with Articles 9, 12, and 14 of Singapore Constitution.[24] These articles guarantee the right to life and personal liberty, and provide that all people are entitled to equal protection before the law.[25] In deciding whether an appeal of Tan's case could be heard in the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal found that Section 377A may "arguably" violate the right to equality before law as offered in Article 12. The ruling however did not go into the merits of the case on technical grounds.[24][26]

Tan's case was heard in the Supreme Court jointly with another appeal challenging Section 377A, and a ruling was given on 29 October 2014. The ruling upheld the country's ban on same-sex relations between consenting adult men. The court held that Section 377A does not violate Articles 9 and 12 of the Singapore Constitution. The applicant's attorney argued that Section 377A criminalises a group of people for an innate attribute, though the court concluded that "there is, at present, no definitive conclusion" on the "supposed immutability" of homosexuality. The court ultimately held that law reforms permitting private homosexual sex were a question for the Singapore Parliament to address.[18]

In September 2018, following the high-profile repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by the Supreme Court of India, more than 50,000 people, including a former attorney-general and several former diplomats, signed a petition called "READY4REPEAL" urging the repeal of Section 377A as part of a major penal code review. However, government officials refused to do so.[27] Diplomat Tommy Koh and former Attorney-General Walter Woon have called on members of the LGBT community to challenge the law.[28]

Soon after the repeal of Section 377 in India in 2018, a Singaporean DJ, Johnson Ong Ming, filed a suit with the High Court arguing that Singapore's Section 377A is "in violation of human dignity". Section 377 of India Penal Code and Section 377A of Singapore Penal Code are effectively identical, as both were put in place by the British Empire, raising hopes in Singapore that the discriminatory law would be struck down as well.[22] Singapore's High Court gave the petitioner until 20 November to submit his arguments.[29][30][31][27]

In November 2018, LGBT rights activist Bryan Choong Chee Hong filed another case with the Supreme Court, arguing that Section 377A is "inconsistent" with portions of Singapore's Constitution, and "is therefore void". According to court documents, the petitioner argues that Section 377A is inconsistent with Article 9, Article 12, and Article 14 of the Constitution.[32][33][34][35]

A third legal challenge was launched in September 2019 by Roy Tan Seng Kee, a retired medical doctor. Tan stated in a statement that, "by institutionalising discrimination, it alienates [LGBT people] from having a sense of belonging and purposeful place in our society, and prevents them from taking pride in Singapore's achievements."[36]

All three cases were dismissed by the High Court on 30 March 2020 in a closed-door judgement by Justice See Kee Oon.[37][38][39]

Recognition of same-sex relationships

Singapore does not recognise same-sex relationships in any form (such as marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships).[40]

Adoption and parenting

In December 2018, one rare exception was permitted when a gay Singaporean won the right to adopt a child he had fathered in the United States through a surrogate. The Singapore High Court overturned a 2017 ruling in which a district judge had ruled the man could not legally adopt his son because he was conceived through in vitro fertilization (which is only limited to heterosexual married couples) and brought to term through surrogacy, which is banned.[41][9]

In January 2019, in response, the Minister for Social and Family Development, Desmond Lee, told the Parliament that he was looking to strengthen Singapore's adoption laws to prevent more same-sex adoption cases and that it did not support "the formation of family units with children of homosexual parents through institutions and processes such as adoption".[42][43] Under Singapore law, children born out of wedlock are considered illegitimate, and thus are not eligible for certain social benefits, unless the child is legally adopted.[44]

Discrimination protections

Previously, no laws existed specifically protecting LGBT Singaporeans from discrimination in the workplace, housing or any other relevant areas. Previous attempts prior to 2019 claim damages for alleged discriminatory conduct in such fields have been dismissed in Singaporean courts.[45]

In 2019, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act was amended to protect the LGBT community from religiously-motivated violence. Legal action can be taken against a religious group or its members for urging violence against certain "target groups". The Explanatory Statement states: "The target group need not be confined to persons who practise a certain religion. The target group may be made up of atheists, individuals from a specific racial community, who share a similar sexual orientation, or have a certain nationality or descent like foreign workers or new citizens."[10]

In 2022, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam reaffirmed that LGBTQ people are equally protected than non-LGBTQ individuals, and that no one is any lesser by reason of their sexual preferences.[5]

Military service

Prior to 2003, homosexuals were barred from being employed in "sensitive positions" within the Singapore Civil Service.[46] In the past, some conscripts in National Service were encouraged to attend conversion therapy. Some Singaporean conscripts who declare their homosexuality have been excluded from officer training, and others are refused security clearances needed to perform certain roles in the army.[47]

Conversion therapy

In January 2006, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) granted S$100,000 (US$61,500) to Liberty League, an organisation affiliated with the "ex-gay" movement, to promote conversion therapy. The organization says it "promotes gender and sexual health for the individual, family and society".[48] However, due to pressure from gay rights activists, Liberty League returned this grant to the ministry, and the organisation has been defunct since 2014.[49]

In May 2020, then-Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong indicated the government's position against conversion therapy in a written reply to a question from Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong. The reply reads, "(The Ministry of Health) expects doctors and other healthcare professionals to practice according to evidence-based best practice and clinical ethics, and to consider and respect patients’ preferences and circumstances (including sexual orientation) when providing care... members of the public can submit a formal complaint to the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) if a doctor is acting unethically or providing inappropriate treatment."[50] Nevertheless, he added in a separate statement that the Ministry of Health had not received any such complaint from self-declared LGBTQ patients in the past three years.[51]

Living conditions

Despite the legal conditions in the country, Singaporean government representatives have previously spoken positively of the conditions faced by LGBT citizens at a United Nations anti-discrimination committee, stating that "homosexuals are free to lead their lives and pursue their social activities. Gay groups have held public discussions and published websites, and there are films and plays on gay themes and gay bars and clubs in Singapore."[18]

Media

The Singapore Media Development Authority prohibits the "promotion or glamorization of the homosexual lifestyle" on television and the radio. Among other things, this means that advertisements targeting the LGBT community, such as those for treatment of HIV/AIDS, are not allowed to be broadcast.[52]

In July 2019, Singaporean rapper Joshua Su, better known as The G3sha, came out as gay in a new song titled "I'm OK" that highlights his childhood, the homophobia he faced and coming to terms with his sexuality.[53][54] Days later, he pulled out of a TEDx radio talk in protest after he was censored and asked not to make "sensitive" comments about his sexuality. Reports indicate that another Singapore gay rights activist was barred from speaking in 2018 at a TEDx radio talk.[55]

Public opinion

A 2005 poll by the Nanyang Technological University found that 69% of Singaporeans viewed homosexuality negatively, whilst 23% positively. In 2010, these numbers had changed to 64.5% negatively and 25% positively.[12]

According to 2013 polling by the Institute of Policy Studies, 78% of Singaporeans opposed same-sex marriage.[56]

A 2018 opinion poll found that 55% of Singaporeans believed that gay men should have no right to privacy.[57] On the other hand, a third of Singaporeans declared themselves more accepting of same-sex relationships and human rights than five years prior.[citation needed]

In 2019, a poll conducted by YouGov with 1,033 respondents showed that about one-third (34%) of Singaporeans backed same-sex partnerships, while 43% opposed their legalization, and the remaining 23% were uncertain. Support was more notable among younger respondents: 50% of people aged 18 to 34 supported civil partnerships and 20% were opposed. In contrast, only 22% of those aged 55 and over supported. 41% of university degree holders agreed with the legalisation of same-sex partnerships, whereas only 26% of respondents without a university degree were in favour. Of those who considered themselves "very much" religious, only 23% supported civil partnerships. 51% of people who considered themselves "not at all" religious expressed support. Apart from irreligious people, majority support for same-sex partnerships was also found in respondents who identified as LGBT (71% against 22%) and those who personally knew a person in a same-sex relationship (52% against 33%).[58][59][60][61]

A survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies between August 2018 and January 2019 revealed that Singaporean society was still largely conservative but becoming more liberal on LGBT rights. The survey showed that more than 20% of people said that sexual relations between adults of the same sex were not wrong at all or not wrong most of the time, a rise of about 10% from 2013. Around 27% felt the same way about same-sex marriage (up from 15% in 2013) and 30% did so about same-sex couples adopting a child (up from 24% in 2013).[62][63]

A 2019 poll conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies found that opposition to same-sex marriage in Singapore had fallen to 60%, down from 74% in 2013. The poll also found that nearly six in ten Singaporeans aged between 18 and 25 believed same-sex marriage is not wrong.[64]

In June 2019, an online survey conducted by Yahoo Singapore asked 887 Singaporeans how they would react to a number of LGBT-related situations. When asked about an LGBT family member coming out, 53% of the respondents said they would react negatively: 14% expressed a "strongly negative" response, while 39% reported a "somewhat negative" reaction. When asked about a colleague coming out, 53% reported a positive reaction, while 46% reported a negative reaction. When asked about the marriage of Li Huanwu—the grandson of Singapore's founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew—to his partner, Heng Yirui, 54% reacted negatively to the marriage. Meanwhile, 46% reacted positively to it. When asked about Pink Dot SG, 55% of respondents said that they strongly or somewhat support Pink Dot Singapore, but the remaining 45% opposed it. 80% of Singaporeans agreed that LGBT people face discrimination.[65][66][67]

In June 2019, an online survey conducted by Blackbox Research revealed that 56% of Singaporeans were opposed to other countries following Taiwan's example in legalising same-sex marriage, while 44% answered "yes". When asked on how they felt that more than 300 same-sex couples were married in Taiwan the first week after the new law was passed, about 49% of those surveyed felt positive about the statement, with 14% feeling "strongly positive" and 35% feeling "somewhat positive". Conversely, 51% responded negatively to this, 20% felt "strongly negative" and 31% were "somewhat negative". The respondents were also asked about how they felt concerning the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Bhutan. About 55% of respondents felt positive, with 15% feeling "strongly positive" and 40% were "somewhat positive". Conversely, about 44% responded negatively, 11% felt "strongly negative" and 33% felt "somewhat negative".[68]

In 2022, an Ipsos survey found that only 44% of Singapore residents support the retainment of 377A. Furthermore, 20% oppose the law its entirety, up from 12% in the last 2018 survey. For the remaining 36%, 32% said they neither support nor oppose the law, while 4% preferred not to say.[13]

Demographics

In May 2019, a study by the National University of Singapore estimated that there were 210,000 men who have sex with men in Singapore. The study estimates were more than double the previous estimates of 90,000 MSM, and said they could be at risk of a concentrated epidemic of HIV.[69][70]

Pink Dot

Pink Dot SG is an annual event that started in 2009 in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore. In recent years, record crowds of approximately 28,000 have attended the rally, with a heavy bent toward younger demographics.[71] On 29 June 2019, during the 11th Pink Dot, Lee Hsien Yang, the brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as well as his wife and second son Li Huanwu and Li's husband, Heng Yirui, attended the event.[72] On 18 June 2022, People's Action Party (PAP) MP Henry Kwek attended the 14th Pink Dot. Kwek's attendance was the first time that a MP from the governing PAP has physically shown their support for the event.[73][74]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes/Yes Illegal on the books for men but unenforced, legal for women.[6]
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only Yes[5][10]
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes[5][10]
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes[5][10]
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Adoption by single people regardless of sexual orientation Yes
Gays, lesbians and bisexuals allowed to serve in the military Yes Limited positions and with restrictions
Right to change legal gender Yes
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes[75]
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)[76]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also

References

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External links