UNAIDS applauded Singapore’s announcement that it will repeal section 377a of the country’s penal code which criminalizes consensual sexual relations between men. The law, dating back to 1938 when Singapore was under British colonial rule, punishes gay consensual sex by a prison sentence of up to two years.
In his annual policy address speech that included plans to repeal the legislation, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said sex between consenting men should not be criminalized and that there was no justification to prosecute people for it, nor to make it a crime. He said that gay people were fellow Singaporeans and that they wanted to live their own lives, participate in the community and contribute fully to Singapore.
“The end of the criminalization of gay men is wonderful news, both for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Singapore, and for the country as a whole,” said Taoufik Bakkali, UNAIDS Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific region. “UNAIDS welcomes this as a significant step towards respecting the human rights of LGBT people in Singapore and creating a more open, tolerant and inclusive society where people can be who they are and love who they want without fear of being imprisoned. This vital change will save lives and benefit everyone, and will inspire other countries to follow. Other countries should join the growing group of nations who have turned away from criminalization.”
Laws punishing consensual same sex relations, as well as contravening the human rights of LGBT people, are a major barrier to improving health outcomes, including in the HIV response. Punitive legislation embeds stigma and discrimination against LGBT people, deters LGBT people from seeking healthcare for fear of being denounced to the authorities and facing punishment and detention, and prevents countries from putting policies in place that properly respond to differentiated epidemics among their populations.
Singapore joins a list of countries that have recently decriminalized same-sex relations, including Antigua and Barbuda, Botswana, Bhutan and Angola. The change in Singapore will at last reduce the number of countries in which consensual same-sex relations are still criminalized to below 70 countries worldwide. Decriminalization is not the end point in tackling stigma and exclusion, but is a vital step forward.