55 per cent of Singapore residents still support gay law: Poll

33% more accepting of same-sex relationships, compared with 5 years ago, online survey finds

A total of 750 Singaporean citizens and permanent residents aged 15 to 65 took part in the study. PHOTO: ST FILE

A little more than half of the people in Singapore - or 55 per cent - still support Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises consensual sex between adult men.

This is even as one in three Singapore residents is more accepting of same-sex relationships, compared with five years ago, a new poll has found.

A total of 750 Singaporean citizens and permanent residents aged 15 to 65 took part in the online survey by Ipsos Public Affairs, an independent market research firm.

The poll was conducted over a period of four days, from end July to early last month, to understand today's social attitudes towards same-sex relationships.

When asked about the extent of their support or opposition to Section 377A, 55 per cent indicated that they supported it, while 12 per cent said they opposed it. Sentiment varied according to gender, with men more likely to strongly support the law than women. Those aged 15 to 24 were more likely to oppose the law, while people aged 55 to 65 were more likely to support it.

Those surveyed were also asked to what extent they agreed with the statement, "I believe that Singaporeans should be able to participate in same-sex relationships".

Twenty-eight per cent agreed with the statement, while 38 per cent did not.

A 2014 survey of more than 4,000 people in Singapore conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies also found that they are mostly conservative. In the study, 78.2 per cent of respondents said same-sex relationships were wrong, while 72.9 per cent were not in favour of gay marriage.

In the latest study, 33 per cent agreed with the statement, "I am more accepting of same-sex relationships than I was five years ago", while 35 per cent disagreed.

The question of whether Section 377A would be repealed in Singapore arose again after the Indian Supreme Court struck down a similar section of the Indian Penal Code last Thursday.

Since then, several online petitions to keep the law or repeal it have started circulating.

When asked about the Indian ruling last Friday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said: "In Singapore, if you look at this issue, it is a deeply split society. The majority are opposed to any change to Section 377A, they are opposed to removing it."

However, he said a "growing minority" want to have it repealed. "The Government is in the middle," he added.

Last Saturday, he said whether Section 377A will be repealed or amended will be a matter for Parliament to decide. He added that depending on the legislation, public opinion is "often relevant" during policymaking in Parliament.

Ipsos said that the findings indicate that attitudes towards the issue of same-sex relationships have changed, and are likely to continue to change, albeit at a slow pace.

The change was attributed to perceptions of shifts in Singapore's social norms involving same-sex relationships, increased conversations on social media, and more direct exposure to same-sex relationships.

Ipsos associate research director Robert McPhedran said:"Increased dialogue regarding same-sex relationships has contributed to higher acceptance among Singaporeans. This is particularly the case for the younger generation.

"Nonetheless, as (Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong) has previously noted, a social consensus remains far from being reached."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2018, with the headline 55 per cent of Singapore residents still support gay law: Poll. Subscribe