However PM Lee followed this welcome announcement with his determination that same-sex marriage would be ruled out at this time through a push to amend the Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, only!
Lee noted that since most Singaporeans do not want a “drastic shift”, his government would also “protect” the definition of marriage as one between a man and a woman – effectively ruling out the possibility of marriage equality for now.
And so, even as some Singaporeans celebrate a landmark decision, a new front line has already emerged in the battle for LGBT rights.
This puts any decision on gay marriage firmly in the hands of the government, not the courts.
According to a BBC report:
“Mr Lee argued in his speech that this was necessary as gay marriage is fundamentally a political issue, not a legal one. But legal experts say it shuts off a path to recognising same-sex unions as it makes it more arduous to mount constitutional challenges. In some countries, such as the US, gay marriage had become a reality through landmark court decisions. “One reason must be that the government needed to achieve a balance between competing interests,” Singapore constitutional law expert Suang Wijaya said. “They want to be seen as giving something to the LGBT community, but also not give a defeat to the conservatives. They don’t want it be a ‘I win and you lose’ situation as it would result in division.”
The announcement has sparked criticism from both sides of the divide – while some in the LGBT community feel let down, conservative sections of society feel the amendment is not enough.
Recent surveys have shown there is significant opposition to gay marriage – one study found nearly half of Singapore says it’s “wrong” – but that percentage is also declining.
Just a few decades ago, LGBT rights was still a taboo topic in tightly-controlled Singapore. Police would raid underground gay clubs and gatherings, and still today TV shows and movies considered to be “promoting homosexuality” can be banned.
Not being able to marry causes significant discrimination for LGBTQI people in Singapore due to the benefits married couples are able to receive.
Melanie Nathan: At African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC) we note that over 30 countries on the continent and over 70 around the world still criminalize sexuality and gender identity. Much of the fear in decriminalizing is the that LGBTQI people would dare seek equality, especially when it comes to marriage. It is for this reason that American Evangelicals and hate groups are so profoundly involved in these countries, urging new criminal laws with penalties harsher than the old Colonial Penal Codes, to thwart any possible global trend toward decriminalization and ultimately marriage equality. However at AHRC we see criminalization of sexuality as Colonial and we also see the Evangelical influence as ongoing form of colonization, and yet African governments and politicians embrace this, nonetheless, while at the same time touting their sovereignty. There is still a massive road ahead for African countries to decriminalize and most unfortunately progress in other parts of the world are not always helpful. With that said, AHRC congratulates all in Singapore who worked so hard and courageously to defend their human rights. One can never underestimate the importance of decriminalization as indeed a critical path to equality, to which all human beings are entitled.