(See Below for Case Law, Evidence of Public Attitudes, NGOs that Assist or Advocate on LGBTI issues, and Country of Origin LGBTI Specialists)
Male homosexuality is illegal in Singapore, though the prescribed sanction of imprisonment up to two years is rarely applied. Tolerance of female homosexuality is broader, and though there is no legal recognition of such relationships, same-sex sexual activity among women is not formally illegal.
Section 377A of the Penal Code 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’.
In a statement issued in response to a request from the BBC in 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that authorities ‘would not take a proactive approach towards enforcing section 377A’ though the consequences and extent of this sentiment is unclear.
According to the Home Affairs Ministry, between 1997 and 2006 there were 185 convictions under Section 377A.
Gender can be changed on official documents only after undergoing sex reassignment surgery. In 1996 an amendment to the Women’s Charter made national identity cards rather than birth certificates the relevant document for marriage licenses. Birth certificates are not able to be changed following sex reassignment surgery as they are considered historical documents.
No case law is currently listed here, but we welcome suggestions.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND/OR STATE’S CAPACITY TO PROTECT
The British legacy of Section 377 of the Penal Code remains an important influence in the legal attitude of Singapore to homosexuality. Singapore sees itself as a conservative society with the ‘family …[as the] basic building block of … society’ (Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 2007).
Category 302 is the Armed Forces medical code for ‘homosexuals, transvestites, paedophiles, etc’. Homosexuals are then split further into those ‘with effeminate behaviour’ and those ‘without effeminate behaviour.’
Motivation to change the law from within Government seems low. In 2013 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong responded to questions as to whether Section 377A would be removed by commenting that the section has ‘always been there and I think we just leave it’. This answer echoes his 2007 Parliamentary speech in which he stated, ‘we have …been right to adapt, to accommodate homosexuals in our society, but not to allow or encourage activists to champion gay rights as they do in the West’. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong concluded stating that ‘the continued retention of section 377A would not be a contravention of the Constitution.’
Singapore has a conservative culture. Though a melting pot of various cultures and nationalities, adoption and acceptance of LGBTI individuals has been slow. PinkDot (below) is one of many organisations attempting to seek to educate.
In 2010 Tan Eng Hong was charged under 377A of the Penal Code for engaging in oral sex with another man in a public toilet. He later pleaded guilty to a substituted charge of s.294(a) of an ‘obscene act in a public place’.
A 2012 Court of Appeal case over-turned the above 2010 (Tan Eng Hong) High Court conclusions, and opened up the possibility that s377A could be challenged as unconstitutional. The judgment stated that, ‘s377A is a law which specifically targets sexually-active male homosexuals… [and]…we have found that s377A arguably violates the Art 12(1) rights of its target group’ (Article 12 guarantees to all persons, equality before the law and equal protection).
In July 2013 Vincent Wijeysingha came out as gay. At the time he was the treasurer of the opposition Democrat Party. A month later, in August 2013, he resigned his post stating that he wished to focus on promoting gay rights. Wijeysingha gave the following summary of the situation in Singapore: ‘I believe that, as a nation, we have a limited appreciation of civil liberties: they have not penetrated deeply into our civil discourse and public administration. There is a great deal of work ahead if we are to achieve the full range of our fundamental liberties’.
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs)
Pink Dot Sg
Pink Dot stands for an ‘open and inclusive’ society. Pink Dot hopes that through education, ‘fear and ignorance’ can be removed and ‘LGBT Singaporeans [can be brought] closer to their family and friends’. PinkDot holds a yearly gathering in Hong Lim Park. 26,000 people gathered in 2014.
The Purple Alliance
‘By empowering real people to share their stories and talents, providing services to support them in leading dignified lives, and helping them communicate, we will increase understanding, promote acceptance, and advance equality among the LGBTQ communities, their allies and the public.’
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN SPECIALISTS
Assistant Professor of Law, National University of Singapore
Professor Chua is a law and society scholar with research interests in law and social change, and law and social movements. Her book published by Temple University Press, Mobilizing Gay Singapore: Rights and Resistance in an Authoritarian State, analyzes the emergence, development, and strategies and tactics of Singapore’s gay and lesbian movement, and explores the complex role of law and meanings of rights. Her 2012 Law & Society Review article, “Pragmatic Resistance, Law, and Social Movements in Authoritarian States: The Case of Gay Collective Action in Singapore,” based on the same project, was awarded the Law & Society Association Honorable Mention for Article Prize in 2013. She has provided expert reports for LGTBI cases.
Researched by: Andrew Kerr