Singapore to repeal law criminalising sex between men

Removing stigma of being gay will make Singapore a more attractive destination for LGBTQ-supportive companies

Singapore will repeal a colonial-era law that criminalises sex between men, a major step forward in a region where homosexuality faces discrimination. It also announced plans to attract more top minds to its shores.

The move to lure talent, unveiled on Sunday by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, is part of a global contest for highly skilled workers as the world economy wrestles with the prospect of a painful slowdown. Countries including the UAE, the UK and Germany have rolled out plans to lure executives, while removing the stigma of being gay will go some way to making Singapore an attractive destination for companies that actively support LGBTQ causes.

“In this global contest for talent, Singapore cannot afford to be creamed off, or left behind,” Lee said in his annual National Day Rally address. “This is an age where talent makes all the difference to a nation’s success,” he said, adding details would be released soon.

The business-friendly southeast Asian city has long been a magnet for international talent and the rich. But worries among locals about the large numbers of foreigners and stringent Covid rules led to the largest decline in white-collar expats in over a decade last year. The prime minister signalled the initiatives would especially target “sectors with good potential beyond technology”, where there are already existing plans to keep talent.


Separately, Lee said removing the legal ban on sex between men, known as section 377A of the Penal Code, was “the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will now accept. Over the years, companies have faced difficulties in obtaining visas for same-sex partners though the government has handled some of this on a case-by-case basis.”

Lee did not link the repeal of the law to the global contest for talent. He also stopped short of recognising same-sex marriage in a nod to religious and conservative groups who define it as being between a man and a woman. Singapore’s constitution would be amended to protect that definition of marriage, he said.

“Most Singaporeans do not want the repeal to trigger a drastic shift in our societal norms across the board,” he said. “What we seek is a political accommodation that balances different legitimate views and aspirations.”

There are “many other important matters on the national agenda”, Lee said in his wide-ranging speech which touched on the pandemic, the economy and infrastructure projects.

On local and foreign talent, Lee acknowledged Singaporeans were “rightly concerned about the large numbers of foreigners in the city”. Even as the government does its “utmost to develop our own talent, the island can never have enough of top minds”, he said.

“While we manage the overall population of foreign professionals here, we must not stop seeking out top talent who can contribute to our Singapore story,” Lee said. “Every Singaporean will benefit from our progress and success.”

A points-based system for allowing in expats is set to kick in next year. The city offers permanent residency status to entrepreneurs and investors who “intend to drive their businesses and investment growth from Singapore via a Global Investor Programme”. Another plan launched in 2021 offered 500 visas for tech-related roles.

On Covid-19 and the economy, Singapore will scrap rules for wearing masks in most indoor settings as the country moves further toward casting off all its pandemic-era curbs. Masks would be required only on public transport and healthcare facilities like hospitals and nursing homes after the easing, Lee said.

The government was “doing everything necessary to support Singaporeans facing rising costs, and will do more if the situation worsens”, he said. While a strengthening Singapore dollar is making imported goods cheaper, there is a limit to the appreciation as it makes exports more expensive and the island lose its competitive edge.

“We have to be very careful not to overdo things,” Lee said. “The basic reality is that international economic conditions have fundamentally changed.” – Bloomberg