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Singapore is steadily becoming more accepting of gay rights, survey finds

Singapore is steadily becoming more accepting of gay rights, survey finds

Singapore residents attend the city's largest LGBTI event, Pink Dot (Photo: Facebook)

Singapore is gradually becoming more accepting of gay rights, a new study has found.

Just over 20% of people polled said they did not think that same-sex relations between consenting adults were wrong. This is more than a 10% increase on findings from around five years ago.

Compared to a similar poll conducted in 2013, the new survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) found that there was an increase in support for same-sex marriage, same-sex couples adopting, and same-sex sexual relations.

However, IPS also found that Singaporean society overall remains generally conservative.

Singapore still maintains Section 377A, a British colonial-era law which criminalizes sex between men.

While the government has said the law will not actively be enforced, LGBTI rights activists say Section 377A’s retention reinforces homophobia in the city-state.

Increase in support  

The IPS survey was conducted between August 2018 and January 2019.

In addition to an increase to the number who did not think same-sex relations were wrong, 27% said that same-sex marriage was not wrong, up from 15% in 2013, and 30% were supportive of same-sex couples adopting children, up from 24% in 2013.

‘We cannot say for certain when the scales will be tipped in favor of gay rights, but, if present trends continue, it may not be very long before that takes place,’ Leonard Lim, a research assistant who worked on the survey, told The Straits Times.

While these numbers will be encouraging for LGBTI rights advocates, they still show that the majority of Singaporeans are opposed to the issues.

This is in addition to a recent poll which found that Singaporeans were in favor of maintaining Section 377A.

Prior to this, a petition launched in favor of maintaining Section 377A received over 109,000 signatures. This was double the number of signatures a petition for the abolition of the law launched around the same time received.

‘Singaporeans are truly embracing diversity and the reality that LGBTQ+ people exist and live among us’ 

Leow Yangfa, executive director of Oogachaga, an LGBTI community support group, told GSN that he was not overly surprised by the survey’s results.

‘It is something we have observed in recent years, that slowly but surely Singaporeans, who are world-renowned for our pragmatism and ability to acknowledge reality, are truly embracing diversity and the reality that LGBTQ+ people exist and live among us,’ Yangfa said.

‘As our government has often remarked, it will look to the views of the people to make decisions on controversial issues such as repealing 377A or policies that affect the LGBTQ+ community.

‘Even as the statistics appear to show a positive indication of greater acceptance, we also have to acknowledge that the current reality for many LGBTQ+ Singaporeans is one mixed with a range of experiences,’ Yangfa added.

He also discussed a mother of a gay man who suggested her son and his boyfriend ‘leave Singapore to settle in a country where [gay relationships are] accepted, and not illegal’.

‘That is just one of many examples of how legislation has very real impact on local attitudes and practices, even if it is not being “proactively enforced”,’ Yangfa says.

‘We believe that the government has a moral obligation to set the tone for how all Singaporeans should be treated before the law – in a just and equal way – rather than wait for attitudes of the majority to change.’

Renewed push for gay rights 

Yangfa also noted that the shift in attitude comes ‘within the context of decades of hard work, individual efforts and advocacy by various individuals and organizations’.

Last year, Singapore saw a renewed push by LGBTI rights advocates to repeal Section 377A.

The groups were spurred on after India’s top court repealed Section 377. Due to a shared colonial history, Singapore’s penal code is heavily modeled on the Indian Penal Code.

Singapore’s main LGBTI rights event, Pink Dot, openly called for the repeal of Section 377A, and numerous other LGBTI rights groups have written to the government to request the abolition of the law.

Despite the efforts, the political effects of this activism have been muted.

Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) have been generally reluctant to address the issue, with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said the government would only consider abolishing Section 377A if a majority of the public supported the move.

Last month, the leader of Singapore’s main opposition party, the Worker’s Party, said that he would not call for the abolition of Section 377A as it risked ‘politicizing’ the issue.