Sunday, August 21, 2022, saw Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, announcing that gay sex between consenting adults will be decriminalised. However, he was also firm about communicating that the ‘traditional’ social norms around ‘marriage’ and ‘family’ will remain unaffected.
As reported by NPR, though the Prime Minister talked about hoping that this change provides relief to gay Singaporeans, he also said: “Even as we repeal Section 377A, we will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage…we have to amend the Constitution to protect it. And we will do so. This will help us repeal Section 377A in a controlled and careful way.”
He announced this during the National Day Rally, and while his government’s decision about doing away with the colonial-era law is welcome, the idea that he is reassuring people that he will do it in such a way that it guarantees that this is where the queer rights movement stops, is definitely one step forward followed by two steps back – merely an illusion of progress. Decriminalisation is ideally the first breath of fresh air, but the fact that the constitution is especially being amended to ensure that there is no scope for marriage equality- or any rights that come with the institution of marriage- is pathetic.
Twitter user & Singaporean lawyer, Daryl Yang (@DarylWJYang) has pointed out that the ease with which Loong’s government is able to amend the constitution is a cause for worry, and that this can further lead to the constitution being used to curb fundamental rights in Singapore. He has also pointed out that this might end up making marriage equality a central issue in the nation’s queer rights movement, which he believes does not need to be the focus for more radical queer agendas, which also need to be at the forefront of discourse. Of course, this is not to sideline the aspirations of queer people who see marriage equality as something important to them; that crusade is equally valid and crucial. However, it does seem like this move might take away from the marriage equality movement as well, by way of positioning family as a unit only achievable through cis-het matrimony.
Singaporean journalist and activist Kirsten Han (@kixes) has pointed out in another Twitter thread that this amendment to the constitution will have repercussions beyond marriage – like access to housing, education, and legal recognition as next-of-kin, amongst other rights. This codification of a queer-excluding definition of marriage will therefore completely take away even the scope to advocate for equality. Therefore, Han has pointed out on Twitter that many queer people do not want the government to go forward with this move, for in a lot of ways, it will end up winning Loong points for being progressive while actually being detrimental to the community in Singapore.