Ending Singapore’s gay sex ban is a small step in Asia Pacific

BANGKOK (AP) — Singapore’s decision to decriminalize sex between men is hailed as a step in the right direction for LGBTQ rights in the Asia-Pacific region, a vast area of ​​nearly 5 billion people with laws and different attitudes.

Although many places have decriminalized same-sex sexual acts, only a few allow same-sex marriage, partnerships, or unions. Singapore tempered its decision by saying it would amend its constitution to prevent such unions ever taking place.

Many prohibitions on sex between men in the region were instituted under British colonial rule in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the laws describe these acts as violations of the “order of nature”.

Here are some details on the situation in the Asia-Pacific region:

AUSTRALIA

All states and territories repealed bans on same-sex sexual relations between 1975 and 1997, while Parliament legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2017. The age of consent became equal for all sexual acts from 2016. People convicted of consensual sex acts that are no longer illegal can have their criminal records expunged.

CHINA

Homosexuality is not criminalized by law, but same-sex marriage is unlikely to be legalized in the near future. While larger cities have vibrant LGBTQ scenes, stigma remains strong in Chinese society. Additionally, LGBTQ people have little legal recourse regarding areas such as child custody or property rights. In recent years, Chinese LGBTQ groups have faced growing censorship and official denial under blanket restrictions on civil society, with a nationwide organization focused on defending LGBTQ legal rights forced to close. last year in the face of pressure from the government.

INDIA

In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the section of the law that punished same-sex sexual activity with up to 10 years in prison. Despite this landmark ruling, same-sex marriage remains illegal and multiple petitions seeking legal recognition have met with government resistance. Over the past decade, the LGBTQ community has gained some acceptance, especially in larger cities, but the community generally remains stigmatized.

INDONESIA

Sex between consenting adults of the same sex is not illegal in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, except in the conservative province of Aceh. However, only marriages between a man and a woman are legal. The LGBTQ community in this country of 250 million people complains of being regularly harassed and persecuted.

JAPAN

Support for sexual diversity has grown slowly, but legal protections are lacking for LGBTQ people, who often face discrimination in school, work and at home, causing many to hide their sexual identity. A number of same-sex couples have filed lawsuits claiming the right to legally marry, but court decisions have been split. Same-sex couples cannot inherit a house or other common property and have no parental rights over each other’s children. They are often prohibited from renting apartments together, going to hospitals and accessing services offered to married couples. About 12% of municipalities have issued partnership certificates to same-sex couples since Shibuya District in Tokyo became the first to do so in 2015. Yet it is not a marriage certificate and does not offer a equal legal protection.

MALAYSIA

Malaysia has strict laws against same-sex relations that can lead to up to 20 years in prison. A former deputy prime minister has been imprisoned twice for sodomy. He was convicted in 2000 and again in 2014, in cases that critics say were politically motivated. Along with its secular courts, Malaysia has an Islamic justice system for Muslims that often imprisons and flogs gay men and lesbians arrested by the Islamic moral police for attempting to have sex. Malaysia has even tried to censor or ban movies it sees as promoting what it calls the LGBTQ lifestyle, including Disney’s recent animated film “Lightyear.”

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand decriminalized same-sex sexual relations in 1986. Sex between men was first made illegal in 1961, while sex between women was never specifically made illegal, although it has been stigmatized. In 2005, New Zealand began to recognize civil unions between same-sex couples, which gave many legal rights to same-sex couples, but did not allow them, for example, to jointly adopt children. In 2013, New Zealand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage. In 2017, lawmakers took the rare step of issuing a formal apology for the “enormous hurt and suffering” inflicted on the hundreds of men who were convicted of homosexuality during the years it was illegal. The following year, lawmakers passed a bill eliminating historic homosexual offenses.

TAIWAN

Taiwan legalized gay marriage in 2019, but LGBTQ activists want the law to be made more inclusive. It currently states that both partners must come from a place where such marriages are already legal. Thus, couples cannot register their marriage in Taiwan if one of the partners is from a place like Japan or another place where their marriage would not be legal.

Still, the island is a hotspot for LGBTQ life, and its annual Pride parade draws participants from across Asia. Taipei is known for its vibrant gay community and nightlife.

THAILAND

Thailand is also one of the most liberal nations in Asia when it comes to LGBTQ issues. Four bills proposing to alternately legalize marriage equality or civil partnership for same-sex couples passed their first reading in the House of Representatives in June. A committee is working to consolidate them into a package that lawmakers should adopt, which would make Thailand the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize same-sex unions.

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Associated Press reporters from the Asia-Pacific region contributed to this report.

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