Singapore will repeal a law that bans gay sex, effectively making it legal to be homosexual in the city-state.
The decision, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on national TV, comes after years of fierce debate.
The city-state is known for its conservative values, but in recent years an increasing number of people have called for the colonial-era 377A law to be abolished.
The government's previous stance was to keep 377A - which bans sex between men - but it also promised not to enforce the law in an effort to appease both sides.
But now, Mr Lee has said they would abolish the law as he believed "this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will accept".
He noted that "gay people are now better accepted" and scrapping 377A would bring the country's laws in line with "current social mores, and I hope, provide some relief to gay Singaporeans".
As expected, the compromise that the government seems to have made is to strengthen the definition of marriage as being limited to opposite-sex couples, effectively putting Marriage Equality further out of reach of the LGBTQ community.
Why is homosexuality illegal in Singapore?
By taking advantage of regional instability and a power struggle within the Malaysian Sultanate, the British government colonised Singapore in 1819.
British control of the island included the introduction of the British legal system, which – at that time – included laws against sex between men.
Singapore became independent in 1965, but the colonial legal system remain in place.
Following a review of the Penal Code in 1938, the laws that policed sexual activity were documented within Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code. The laws meant that anal sex and oral sex were prohibited for everyone – heterosexual or homosexual. In 2007, amendments to the law specifically legalised anal sex and oral sex for heterosexual sexual encounters, but they remained criminalised for man-on-man sexual encounters. Sex between women isn’t covered by Section 377A and doesn’t appear to have ever been explicitly prohibited in Singapore law.
The punishment for sex between men is two years’ imprisonment. Prosecutions and convictions are rare, but the government has consistently resisted calls for the law to be reviewed.
Research into the archives of the British Government has shed some light on why Section 377A was enacted. A 1940 report to the British Government official responsible for the administration of Singapore reveals a direct link between the enactment of Section 377A and the colonial administration’s concerns about its Singapore officials’ extensive use of male prostitutes at that time. The 1940 report details disciplinary action taken against government officials in 1938 – the year that Section 377A came into effect. This suggests that Section 377A was designed to regulate and control prostitution rather than what was happening in private between consenting adults, but the reality of this law has been the criminalisation of gay men.