PWeather Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced Sunday that Singapore would repeal a law criminalizing sex between men, but it wasn’t all good news for LGBT rights.

Lee said in a National Day speech that the tightly governed city-state would abolish the law because it was “the right thing to do.” However, he also promised to increase protections for marriage as the union of a woman and a man.

“We need to find the right way to reconcile and accommodate both the traditional customs of our society and the aspiration of gay Singaporeans to be respected and accepted,” he said.

Home Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam told the tight times Monday that the constitution of the Southeast Asian city-state will be amended to give the legislature the right to define marriage. The move is expected to avoid challenges to heteronormative marriage laws on constitutional grounds.

LGBT activists say the change will deal a major blow to equality. “Such a decision will undermine the secular character of our Constitution, codify further discrimination into supreme law, and tie the hands of future parliaments,” more than 20 LGBTQ rights groups said in a joint statement.

A television screen (right) seen through a residential apartment window shows a live broadcast of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his National Day Rally speech in Singapore on August 21, 2022.

Asia’s Conservative Backlash

Without a doubt, the repeal of Law 377A, which punished homosexual sex with up to two years in prison, is welcome. Leow Yangfa, executive director of the Singapore LGBTQ community organization Oogachaga, tells TIME that the move “sends an important signal, from the government, that we are taking the first step towards equality and progress for the LGBTQ community.”

SAFE, an organization of parents, family members and friends of LGBTQ people, said the move was “the beginning of healing for many families.”

But the proposed constitutional amendment is dampening the mood. “We think it’s not only a blow to the gay community, but to Singapore in general,” Clement Tan, a spokesman for the non-profit organization Pink Dot SG, told TIME.

Singapore now joins other places in Asia that are caught between pleasing conservative electorates and wanting to appear progressive. Taiwan made waves when it approved same-sex unions in 2019, but its LGBT community faced immediate backlash and suffers from ongoing discrimination. Taiwanese law also imposes restrictions that heterosexual couples do not face.

Thailand took a small step toward marriage equality in June, when lawmakers gave initial approval to legalize same-sex unions. But activists say legislative hurdles remain and the country is not living up to its LGBT-friendly image.

Activists have pushed to improve LGBT rights in Japan. But in June, a court in the country’s third-most populous city ruled that the freedom of marriage in the constitution referred only to unions between men and women, and that therefore Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage it was constitutional.

Supporters attend the annual “Pink Dot” event in a public display of support for the LGBT community at Hong Lim Park in Singapore on June 18, 2022.

Continuous discrimination

Although an Ipsos study published in June found that 45% of Singaporeans are more accepting of same-sex relationships than they were three years ago, the same study also showed that 44% were in favor of the continued criminalization of sexual intercourse. among men. SAFE also says that “institutionalized discrimination against LGBTQ people exists in public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards, and movie ratings.”

Religious groups have reacted badly to the repeal of 377A. The National Council of Churches in Singapore said the move weakened the role of legislation as a “moral signifier”. The organization wants the government to guarantee the freedom of churches to preach against gay sex.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore warned against “a slippery path of no return, which weakens the fabric of a strong society, which rests on the foundations of holistic families and marriages.”

Pink Dot’s Tan says there may now be a backlash against the LGBT community and expects the conversation to heat up in the coming weeks as the issue is debated in parliament.

Law 377A “has taken a heavy toll on many LGBTQ people,” he says. “However, its repeal does not mean discrimination against LGBTQ people will immediately go away. There is a lot of work to be done to change misconceptions and foster understanding towards the community.”

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