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LGBT rights in Singapore

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Up to 2 years, fines, and canings
MilitaryGay men required to attend National Service, but restricted to limited duties.
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo formal recognition

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Singapore face challenges not faced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal (even if consensual and committed in private), and the Attorney-General has declared that prosecutions under Singapore's Section 377A occasionally still occur.[1][2][3] Same-sex relationships are not recognized under the law, and adoption of children by same-sex couples is illegal. No anti-discrimination protections exist for LGBT people.

Singaporean society is generally regarded as conservative. Government officials occasionally crack down on freedom and human rights for LGBT people. Despite this, LGBT events have taken place every year since 2009, with increasing attendance. In line with worldwide trends, attitudes towards members of the LGBT community are slowly evolving and becoming more accepting and tolerant, especially among young people.[4]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity

Previously, Singapore law inherited from the British Empire prohibited sodomy regardless of sex. As such, heterosexual and homosexual anal or oral sex were illegal. In 2007, such sexual activity was legalised for heterosexuals and lesbians, but not for gay men. The punishment is two years' imprisonment, and Attorney-General Lucien Wong has declared that he still has the legal power to prosecute someone under Singapore's Section 377A.[1][2] However, he also said that the public prosecutor does not pursue cases between consenting adults and in private places as it is not in the public interest. Section 377A can be used to prosecute if reports are lodged with the police, particularly in relation to minors.[3]


After an exhaustive Penal Code review in 2007, oral and anal sex were legalised for heterosexuals and lesbians. The changes meant that oral and anal sex between consenting heterosexual and female homosexual adults were no longer offences. However, Section 377A, which deals with gross indecency between consenting men, remains in force.

LGBT rights protesters at a Human Rights Day seminar organised by the Delegation of the European Union to Singapore in December 2014

In his concluding speech on the debate over the partial repeal of Section 377A,[5] Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told MPs before the vote that "Singapore is basically a conservative society... The family is the basic building block of this society. And by family in Singapore we mean one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit."

Section 377A ("Outrages on decency")
Section 377A 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."[6]

Section 377A remains sporadically enforced. Between 2007 and 2013, nine people were convicted under 377A provisions.[7]

Other sections of the Penal Code potentiality relevant to LGBT Singaporeans include;

Section 354 of the Penal Code ("Outrage of Modesty")
Section 354 provides that if any person uses criminal force on any person intending to outrage, or knowing it would be likely to outrage, the modesty of that person, he shall be imprisoned for a maximum of 2 years, or with fine, or with caning, or with any 2 of such punishments. Section 354 requires that the police or someone is touched. However, if no physical contact is made, homosexual behaviour can also be charged under Section 294A (see below).

Section 294A of the Penal Code
If the victim of an entrapment operation uses a symbolic gesture to signal intention to have sexual activity with the police decoy, he can be tried under Section 294A of the Penal Code, which covers the commission of any obscene act in any public place to the annoyance of others (subject to a maximum of 3 months imprisonment, a fine, or both). From 1990 to 1994, there were 6 cases of obscene acts brought before the courts in this context. The accused were fined between $200 and $800.

Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act
The police can use section 19 (soliciting in a public place) of the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, which covers both prostitution and soliciting "for any other immoral purpose". This offence carries a fine of up to $1,000, doubling on a subsequent conviction, including a jail term not exceeding 6 months.

According to documentation by National University of Singapore sociologist Laurence Leong Wai Teng,[8] from 1990 to 1994, there were 11 cases where gay men were charged for soliciting. They were fined between $200 and $500. However, a Lawnet search revealed no reported cases of persons being charged under section 19. This does not mean, however, that no persons were charged. They might have pleaded guilty and avoided trial, resulting in the absence of case law.

Decriminalisation efforts

On 29 October 2014, a Singapore Supreme Court ruling upheld the country's ban on same-sex relations between consenting adult men. The Supreme Court held that Section 377A of Singapore Penal Code, which criminalises sexual intimacy between men, does not violate articles 9 and 12 of the Singapore Constitution. These articles guarantee the right to life and personal liberty, and provide that all people are entitled to equal protection before the law.[9] The applicant's attorney argued that Section 377A criminalises a group of people for an innate attribute, though the court concluded that "there is, at present, no definitive conclusion" on the "supposed immutability" of homosexuality. The court also upheld the differing laws regarding male and female same-sex sexual activity because female homosexual acts "were either less prevalent or perceived to be less repugnant than male homosexual conduct."[7] The court ultimately held that law reforms permitting private homosexual sex were a question for the Singapore Parliament to address.[7]

Previously, in 2012, a lower-court ruling had found that Section 377A as it relates to the arrest of males for private and consensual sexual conduct "arguably" breached article 12 protections, though the court's ruling did not go into the merits of the case on technical grounds.[10]

Human-rights activists have been calling for and pushing for the repeal of Section 377A, arguing that it infringes on privacy, the right to life and personal liberty, the two latter being constitutionally protected.[11]

In September 2018, following the high-profile repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by the Supreme Court, a Singaporean DJ filed a suit in court arguing that Singapore's Section 377A is "in violation of human dignity". Section 377 and Section 377A are effectively identical, as both were put in place by the British Empire, raising hopes in Singapore that the discriminatory law would be struck down as well.[11] Singapore's High Court gave the petitioner until 20 November to submit his arguments.[12][13][14] A hearing is set for 18 February.[15] Diplomat Tommy Koh has called on members of the LGBT community to challenge the law.[16]

Recognition of same-sex relationships

Singapore does not recognise same-sex relationships in any form (such as marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships).

Adoption and parenting

Adoption of children by gays and lesbians are illegal in Singapore.

In December 2018, a gay Singaporean won the right to adopt a child he had fathered in the United States through a surrogate. The Singapore High Court overturned a 2017 ruling in which a district judge had ruled the man could not legally adopt his son because he was conceived through in vitro fertilization (which is only limited to heterosexual married couples) and brought to term through surrogacy, which is banned.[17][18] Under Singapore law, children born out of wedlock are considered illegitimate, (and thus are not eligible for certain social benefits, and the parents do not enjoy the same tax and housing rights as married couples) unless the child is legally adopted.

Discrimination protections

No laws exist specifically protecting LGBT Singaporeans from discrimination in the workplace, housing or any other relevant areas. Previous attempts claim damages for alleged discriminatory conduct in such fields have been dismissed in Singaporean courts.[19]

Military service

Prior to 2003, homosexuals were barred from being employed in "sensitive positions" within the Singapore Civil Service.[20]

The most widely known and infamous classification is Category 302, a medical code given to personnel who are "homosexuals, transvestites, paedophiles, etc." Gay soliders who declare their sexual orientation to the army medical officer are shuned into this category, where they face much discrimination. Under Category 302 (popularly referred to as "cat 302"), gay and bisexual soliders are further classified into those "with effeminate behaviour" and those "without effeminate behaviour".

Self-declared or discovered servicemen are referred to the Psychological Medicine Branch of the Headquarters of Medical Services for a thorough psychiatric assessment, which involves their parents being called in for an interview. They are medically downgraded to a Physical Employment Status of C (PES C), regardless of their level of fitness, and put through modified Basic Military Training. On graduation, they are deployed in a vocation which has no security risks, posted to non-sensitive units and given a security status which restricts their access to classified documents.

Formerly, Category 302 personnel were not allowed to stay overnight in-camp, nor were they required to perform night duties, but these restrictions have been relaxed. "Effeminate" homosexuals are also posted to a holding list upon completion of National Service and not required to do reservist training, whilst "non-effeminate" ones have to undergo it in non-sensitive units.

A less well-known classification is Category 30-B, a medical code given to servicemen "with effeminate behaviour not amounting to sexual disorders". These individuals are further subdivided into "mildly effeminate", "effeminate" and "severely effeminate".

Conversion therapy

Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual's sexual orientation. Such practices enjoy no medical, psychological or scientific support. Indeed, they lead to depression, anxiety and suicide.

Despite this, in January 2006, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) granted S$100,000 (US$61,500) to Liberty League, an organisation affiliated with the "ex-gay" movement, to promote conversion therapy. The organization says it "promotes gender and sexual health for the individual, family and society".[21]

Living conditions

Despite the legal conditions in the country, Singaporean government representatives have previously spoken glowingly of the conditions faced by LGBT citizens at a United Nations anti-discrimination committee; "homosexuals are free to lead their lives and pursue their social activities. Gay groups have held public discussions and published websites, and there are films and plays on gay themes and gay bars and clubs in Singapore."[7]


The Singapore Media Development Authority prohibits the "promotion or glamorization of the homosexual lifestyle" on television and the radio. This means among other things that advertisements targeting the LGBT community, such as those for HIV/AIDS, are not allowed to be broadcast.[22]

Public opinion

A 2005 poll by the Nanyang Technological University found that 69% of Singaporeans viewed homosexuality negatively, whilst 23% positively. In 2010, these numbers had changed to 64.5% negatively and 25% positively.[4]

According to 2013 polling, some 75% of Singaporeans opposed same-sex marriage.[23]

A 2018 opinion poll found that 55% of Singaporeans believed that gay men should have no right to privacy.[24] On the other hand, a third of Singaporeans declared themselves more accepting of same-sex relationships and human rights than five years prior.

In 2019, a poll conducted by YouGov with 1,033 respondents showed that about one-third (34%) of Singaporeans backed same-sex partnerships, while 43% opposed their legalization, and the remaining 23% were uncertain. Support was more notable among younger respondents: 50% of people aged 18 to 34 supported civil partnerships and 20% were opposed. In contrast, only 22% of those aged 55 and over supported. 41% of university degree holders agreed with the legalisation of same-sex partnerships, whereas only 26% of respondents without a university degree were in favour. Of those who considered themselves "very much" religious, only 23% supported civil partnerships. 51% of people who considered themselves "not at all" religious expressed support. Apart from irreligious people, majority support for same-sex partnerships was also found in respondents who identified as LGBT (71% against 22%) and those who personally knew a person in a same-sex relationship (52% against 33%).[25][26][27][28]

Pink Dot

In recent years, record crowds of approximately 28,000 have attended Singapore's annual gay rights rally, Pink Dot SG, with a heavy bent toward younger demographics.[29]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Penalty: Up to 2 years' imprisonment, caning, and fines)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays, lesbians and bisexuals allowed to serve in the military Yes/No (Only limited positions)
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)[30]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also



  1. ^ a b Wong, Jonathan (2 October 2018). "Government has not curbed public prosecutor's discretion for Section 377A: A-G Lucien Wong". The Straits Times.
  2. ^ a b "Section 377A: Public Prosecutor retains 'full prosecutorial discretion', says Attorney-General". Channel NewsAsia. 2 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b Glauert, Rik (2 October 2018). "Singapore has not curbed power of anti-gay law, says Attorney General". Gay Star News.
  4. ^ a b "The Big Read: With a house still divided over 377A, time to seek common ground".
  5. ^ "Global Rights/Commonwealth, Stage 1, Appendix 3". Alex Au. 3 October 2009.
  6. ^ "Penal Code - Singapore Statutes Online".
  7. ^ a b c d "Gay rights in Singapore: On permanent parole". The Economist. London. 30 October 2014.
  8. ^ "Leong Wai Teng". NUS Department of Sociology. Archived from the original on 8 September 2005. Retrieved 13 July 2005.
  9. ^ "Singapore: Court Ruling a Major Setback for Gay Rights", Human Rights Watch, 29 October 2014
  10. ^ "Tan Eng Hong v. Attorney-General (See Conclusion - section 187 of judgement)". 21 August 2012.
  11. ^ a b "Singapore DJ files court challenge against gay sex ban after India ruling", Reuters, 12 September 2018.
  12. ^ "Anti-gay law targeted again in Singapore lawsuit". Erasing 76 Crimes. 9 October 2018.
  13. ^ "Singapore: DJ has to file evidence challenging Section 377A by Nov 20". Equal Eyes. 25 September 2018.
  14. ^ Chua, Alfred (11 October 2018). "DJ has to file evidence challenging Section 377A by Nov 20". Today. Singapore.
  15. ^ Qin, Amy (16 December 2018). "Inspired by India, Singaporeans Seek to End Gay Sex Ban". The New York Times.
  16. ^ "Veteran Singapore diplomat Tommy Koh calls for gay community to challenge sex ban". Channel NewsAsia. Singapore. Reuters. 7 September 2018.
  17. ^ "Gay Singaporean man can adopt son born via surrogacy, court rules". CNN. 17 December 2018.
  18. ^ Tan, Yvette (17 December 2018). "Gay Singaporean man wins landmark appeal to adopt surrogate child". BBC News.
  19. ^ "Singapore (Gay Rights)". GayLawNet.
  20. ^ Simon Elegant (7 July 2003). "The Lion In Winter". Time Asia.
  21. ^ Sylvia Tan (17 January 2006). "Singapore government awards S$100,000 grant to group with ex-gay affiliation".
  22. ^ Mosbergen, Dominique (13 October 2015). "How One Of The World's Richest Countries Is Limiting Basic Human Rights". Huffington Post – via Huff Post.
  23. ^ "Wear white to protest pink gay rally, religious groups say". Reuters. 23 June 2014.
  24. ^ hermes (11 September 2018). "55 per cent of Singapore residents still support gay law: Poll".
  25. ^ Ho, Kim (18 February 2019). "Singaporeans split on same-sex civil partnerships". YouGov.
  26. ^ Glauert, Rik (19 February 2019). "A third of Singaporeans support same-sex civil partnership". Gay Star News.
  27. ^ "Singaporeans remain deeply divided on the issue of recognizing gay civil partnerships here". Yahoo!. 19 February 2019.
  28. ^ "Singaporeans remain deeply divided on the issue of recognizing gay civil partnerships here". Coconuts Singapore. 19 February 2019.
  29. ^ "Singapore's annual gay rights rally sees largest turnout". Reuters. 13 June 2015.
  30. ^ "Surrogacy law: regulated, unregulated -".