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Asia Minute: Singapore takes a small step on gay rights — activists want more

Singapore gay rights lgbtq
Wong Maye-E/AP
FILE - Thousands of people gathered at a park for the annual Pink Dot gay pride event on Saturday, July 1, 2017, in Singapore. Singapore announced Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022, it will decriminalize sex between men by repealing a colonial-era law. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

Singapore has ended a legal ban on gay sex. But when it comes to broader reforms involving the LGBTQ community, the future still has a lot of question marks.

The United States was up to its bloody elbows in the American Civil War when a British law made gay sex illegal in Singapore — back in 1862.

There were no religious laws against it in Buddhist or Hindu practices, but the prohibition was a part of Britain’s colonial legacy that lingered until this past weekend.

On Sunday, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong went on national television to announce the law will be repealed — something protestors have wanted for years.

But while activists praised the move, some called it “window-dressing,” because the prime minister also said the government would define marriage as an act between a man and a woman — and put that into Singapore’s constitution.

The country has had an active LGBTQ community for many years. The annual Pink Dot festivals started more than a decade ago, drawing some 2,500 people to their first protest in 2009 — with crowds swelling in later years to the tens of thousands.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee said Singapore remains a “traditional society” — with many eager to maintain “family and social norms.”

But Singapore is also a regional economic hub — and any legislation blocking gay marriage could lead to a backlash from international businesses.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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