Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said on Sunday that the government would repeal the country’s colonial-era law criminalizing sex between men, a step long sought by gay rights advocates, but that same-sex marriage would continue to be illegal.
Reversing his long-held opposition to decriminalizing gay sex, Mr. Lee said he believed that the conservative nation was willing to accept the idea of sex between consenting men and revoke the law, known as Section 377A. Gay rights advocates had sought to overturn it, arguing that it stigmatizes gay men and promotes discrimination. The law, enacted in 1938 during British rule, does not apply to women.
“The government will repeal Section 377A and decriminalize sex between men,” Mr. Lee said in his televised National Day Rally speech, an annual policy address. “I believe this is the right thing to do and something that Singaporeans will accept.”
Delivering versions of his speech in Malay, Mandarin and English, the prime minister said he would propose a constitutional amendment to protect Singapore’s definition of marriage, which provides for marriage only between one man and one woman.
“Let me reassure everyone that in handling the issue, the government will continue to uphold families as the basic building blocks of society,” he said. “We will keep our policies on family and marriage unchanged and maintain the prevailing norms and social values of our society.”
Mr. Lee said that he was handling the issue carefully, and he portrayed his proposal as a compromise between competing interests.
“Every group must accept that it cannot get everything it wants because it is simply not possible,” he said. “And we must maintain the mutual respect and trust that we have painstakingly built up over the years and stay united as one people.”