SINGAPORE - Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community groups have expressed relief that the law which criminalises sex between men will be repealed, and called it a "powerful statement that state-sanctioned discrimination has no place in Singapore".
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code during his National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug 21), but also said the Constitution will be amended to safeguard the definition of marriage between a man and a woman from legal challenges.
Religious groups such as the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) said they appreciated the Government's assurance that it will safeguard the institution of marriage, but expressed concern that the repeal would lead to advocacy for civil unions to be legalised.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore urged the Government to define marriage in the Constitution before repealing Section 377A. "Otherwise, we will be taking a slippery road of no return, weakening the fabric of a strong society which is founded on the bedrock of holistic families and marriages," said the Archbishop's Communications Office.
For LGBTQ community groups, any move by the Government to introduce further legislation or constitutional amendments that signal they are unequal citizens is disappointing.
"Such a decision will undermine the secular character of our Constitution, codify further discrimination into supreme law, and tie the hands of future Parliaments," said 22 groups, including Pink Dot SG, Oogachaga and Action for Aids Singapore, in a joint statement.
"The repeal of Section 377A is the first step on a long road towards full equality for LGBTQ people in Singapore," they said, adding that their immediate priorities will be to tackle discrimination at home, in schools, workplaces, and in the housing and healthcare system.
In its statement, the NCCS said it was concerned that the repeal would lead to an intensification in efforts for civil unions to be legalised in Singapore, on the same argument of guaranteeing constitutional rights for all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation.
It said repealing Section 377A would serve to replace the symbolic role of the law as a "moral signifier" that society's laws, policies and values remain strongly in support of marriage and the family unit as between a man and a woman.
The NCCS also sought the Government's assurance that the religious freedom of churches to teach against gay sexual acts will be protected.
Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, the president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said traditional family values have to be preserved. "(But) we cannot force our values onto others or instil our own ideas, especially in the young. Let them have their own choices when they come to a mature age."
Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, Singapore's top Islamic leader, said it is important that religious values remain the same, even as laws change. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore will continue to work with the Government to strengthen the institution of marriage while ensuring that society remains cohesive, he added.
Reverend Yang Tuck Yoong, the chairman of the Alliance of Pentecostal & Charismatic Churches of Singapore, called the repeal an "extremely regrettable decision". The alliance also reiterated that the party whip should be lifted so MPs can vote freely on the matter when it is debated in Parliament.
Speaking to reporters, Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai said his party is happy that the Government has come up with a clear position that appears to balance the interests of both sides very well, but added that it will have to look at the details of the legislation.
Meanwhile, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) president Kurt Wee said it supports the repeal and added that it is now the right move for businesses to treat sexual orientation the same way they do with race and gender.
"Businesses should be progressive to be a step ahead of general social norms. ASME supports the Government's well-thought and timely move to repeal 377A."
- Additional reporting by Jessie Lim and Dominic Low