However, the fact that male homosexual sex remains punishable by a prison term of up to two years, even though the Government has pledged not to enforce the law, has not prevented gay Singaporeans from forging stable long-term relationships and from living together as committed couples.
Overseas civil unionsEdit
- See also Archive of The Telegraph article, "Births, deaths and the first civil partnership", 6 December 2005
- See also Archive of TODAY article, "Singaporean man among first in gay union", 12 December 2005
Before same-sex marriage gained legal recognition in as many countries as they have today, civil unions were the interim arrangement instituted in these nations. The first Singaporean on record to enter into a civil union overseas was Malay-Muslim computer executive Ghani Jantan, son of Mr and Mrs A Jantan of Pasir Panjang, Singapore, who registered a partnership with former cavalry officer John Walker, a British citizen from Stockbridge, Hampshire,. The announcement was published in the UK's The Telegraph and The Times in early December 2005, accompanied by a colour photograph of the happy couple. They converted their civil union into a full fledged marriage when legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in July 2013 and came into force on 13 March 2014.
Since then, many gay Singaporean couples have followed suit and registered their own civil unions in foreign jurisdictions or have even gotten married to their partners in countries like Canada and the USA where gay marriage has been legalised():
Others celebrate their loving relationships in Singapore via videos posted on YouTube.
Gay wedding ceremoniesEdit
Even though gay marriage is not yet legal, holding gay weddings is perfectly legitimate in Singapore, unlike the case with Vietnam where it was illegal until as recent as 2014. However, the "marriages" that the wedding ceremonies or dinners celebrate cannot be registered with the Registry of Marriages and are therefore not legally recognised.
There is much less discrimination against lesbian relationships, especially after lesbian sex was decriminalised during the Penal Code review in 2007 when the former Section 377, which criminalised "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" (theoretically including penetrative lesbian sex) was repealed.
Therefore, if there is a push by LGBT activists to legalise gay marriage in Singapore, it may be spearheaded by lesbian couples serving as role models as there is much less mainstream resistance against their relationships. However, the overseas Singaporean same-sex marriages that have been reported in the mainstream and alternative media so far have mainly featured male couples.
The results of a survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and published in early 2014 showed that although "78.2% (of respondents) felt ...sexual relations between two adults of the same sex (was always or almost always wrong)", "When it came to adoption of a child by a gay couple, respondents who found it always or almost always wrong fell to 61.1%, 72.9% found gay marriage always or in certain cases wrong, and 15.7% thought it was not." That is, fewer Singaporeans found gay marriage and child adoption wrong as compared to gay sex.
Ivan Heng marries Tony Trickett in LondonEdit
On Friday, 1 August 2014, Cultural Medallion recipient, theatre doyen Ivan Heng, then 50 years of age and the founding artistic director of home-grown theatre company Wild Rice, married his long-time partner Tony Trickett, then 57 and Wild Rice's executive director, in a ceremony in London. They tied the knot at the Chelsea Old Town Hall on the 18th anniversary of the day they met and fell in love. According to Heng, it was a perfect British summer's day, memorable in every way. The couple were immensely moved and overwhelmed by the messages of love and congratulations from everyone. After the wedding, they headed to Tuscany in Italy for a few days' holiday.
Heng announced the good tidings in a lengthy Facebook post entitled, "I am a Happily Married Man":
"On being awarded the Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s highest national award for culture and the arts, a journalist asked me whether she could use the term “openly gay” to describe me. A little stunned, I asked her what my sexual orientation had to do with the award. She explained that as the two other winners were married, she felt it necessary to inform the readers about my marital “status”, or something equivalent.
I paused, not quite knowing what to say. And then asked her if she would use the term “openly straight” to describe them. The irony was not lost on her, and we had a giggle. I told her she could write that I shared my life and work with Tony, my partner of seventeen years.
When I finally accepted the award at the Istana, I ended my speech by thanking Tony publicly, and I might add, to great applause. The article regarding the ceremony made the front page of the Straits Times the following day. But whilst my fellow winners’ spouses were mentioned in glowing terms, Tony was conspicuously absent. This lack of any acknowledgement hurt.
I’ve always liked the idea of marriage. I cry at weddings because there is something beautiful and romantic about finding someone, falling in love, and wanting to give each other the world. Forever. I imagined it’d be bliss to come home to a best friend at the end of a day’s work, to have dinner, or take evening strolls with. It would be wonderful to always have someone in my corner, a constant companion with whom I could just be myself, and to grow old with. But when I was growing up, I had little to look up to. There were no positive gay roles models, and neither were there any gay television programmes, books or films with happy endings. So I dared not entertain the hope that marriage could happen for me.
In the summer of 1996, I met Tony at the “Brief Encounter”, a gay bar in London’s West End. I was meant to be at another party that evening, but my hot date ran out of battery on his mobile phone, and I did not own one. So my intended tryst was scuppered, and I needed a drink. It was “Disco Thursday”, and the place was heaving with an after-work crowd. As is always the case with gay bars, everyone was trying and never completely succeeding to be butch and cool. But when Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer’s “Enough is Enough” came on, the make-shift dance floor went wild and everyone started a sing-a-long. I found myself mouthing the words with a casual insouciance - one tries to look as if you’re enjoying yourself, but not too much.
And then I saw Tony, looking very handsome in his pinstriped suit, not a strand of his salt and pepper hair out of place and the kindest, most beautiful blue eyes. He too was singing. “I always dreamed I’d find the perfect lover, but he turned out to be like any other man…”. We caught each other lip-synching across the crowded room, and laughed. And then, we proceeded to sing the entire anthem to each other. “Enough is enough, is enough, is enough…IS ENOUGH!!” We keeled over laughing. Sharing a sense of humour was a good place to start. When we finally recovered and spoke to each other, something clicked. That night, all our cares melted away and the world disappeared. We fell in love.
Six weeks later, on a moonlit street in London, Tony went down on bended knee and asked me to marry him. I remember being at once alarmed and moved. Given the improbability of such a union, and preferring to be romanced by chocolates, flowers and champagne, I declined. He persisted, gallantly getting down on both knees, and I agreed for us to be “boyfriends”. Needless to say, our encounter has been more than brief.
Within three months of knowing each other, we moved in together. And one year later, in 1997, we moved to Singapore. It is a place we have grown to love very much, and that we call home.
When marriage equality became real in the United Kingdom this year, Tony and I decided to get married. We envisaged an intimate, private ceremony with our families and our close friends. It would be an occasion to celebrate and affirm our commitment to each other as a couple. We chose the 1stof August 2014 for our nuptials to mark our 18th anniversary together. Homophonically, pun fully intended, 1-8-1-8 is auspicious in Chinese. A little luck is needed on all great adventures.
Yesterday, at the Chelsea Old Town Hall in London, we avowed our love. With our nephew as our ring bearer, our siblings as witnesses, our family and our closest friends, we exchanged rings and made a promise to love and cherish each other to the end of our days. It was well and truly one of the happiest days of our lives.
We never meant for our marriage to be a political statement or an act of activism. Notwithstanding that, I have come to terms with the fact that as a public figure, one’s personal joy sometimes becomes political.
Even as the LGBT community in Singapore struggles for equality and acceptance, there have been there have been many incidents that have vilified us in recent days. These have ranged from the religious fundamentalists’ declaration of war on the community and a widespread and systematic campaign of hate to keep S377a on the law books, the attempt to undermine the Health Promotion Board’s guidelines, and the Wear Red and/or White Movement. In fits of moral panic,the MDA banned Ah Mei’s “Rainbow”, and the National Library Board shelved children’s books to its adult collection.
It is easy to see that all of this stems from the presence of S377a, which is in effect state-sanctioned bigotry. The verdict is still out on the constitutional challenge to this archaic law that discriminates against a vulnerable segment of our society. But as it stands, neither the judiciary nor legislature seems to have the moral courage to repeal it. Between Goh Chok Tong’s, “We are born this way and they are born that way but they are like you and me” to Lee Hsien Loong’s “Why is the law on the books? Because it’s always been there and we should just keep it there.” - we really have regressed, even as the world is waking up to the fact that LGBT rights are human rights.
In spite everything, we remain hopeful.
Pink Dot continues to grow in size and meaning, proudly signaling a wish for a more fair and just society. The way we progress, how we regard human rights in our society,is always driven by the young, who are not married to the prejudices of the past. My personal interactions with young people, not least my dear nephews and nieces and indeed all the beautiful children at our wedding, give me hope for the future, and a distinct sense that time and history are on our side. In the bigger scheme, Singapore is showing signs of maturing as a society. Our citizens, both straight and gay, recognise inequality, prejudice and hate-speech when we see it, and are now more ready than ever to call it out. We are finally beginning to have the important conversations that go to the heart of living in a true democracy. Because truly, if we want to talk about our core values and community standards, these surely must include notions such as tolerance, inclusivity and diversity. I trust we will come to understand that this has as much to do with the protection of the rights of a minority, as it is about the will of the majority. The LGBT community is not going to go away or disappear. So the sooner everyone gets over it, the happier everyone will be, and we can get on with more pressing matters. Enough is enough.
And Singapore is changing. We were a little nervous about telling anyone outside our close circle of family and friends about our nuptials. In getting ready for our Big Day, we had to find and buy our wedding rings, tailor our outfits, get advice for our wedding cake, get our invitations and programmes printed. We had to “come out” again and again to complete strangers. But in our experience, these ordinary Singaporeans were nothing but kind and genuinely happy for us, unabashed in their congratulations and best wishes, offering to help us in any way possible.
This experience has affirmed our belief that the most important thing anyone can do as a human being, straight or gay, is to be true to oneself. We are so much happier if we can all be proud of whom we are, how we feel, whom we love. Our marriage is a declaration our love, and we invite the world to share in our joy. We are deeply grateful for our wonderful family and our amazing friends, whose love and support has been a great encouragement and inspiration to us through the years.
In closing, I would like to report that your fellow Singaporean, Ivan Heng is now “openly married”.
A 1,700 word Valentine's Day feature article entitled "Singapore’s art power couples on the secrets to their success" published by Today newspaper on Friday, 12 February 2016, mentioned 4 heterosexual couples who worked alongside each other in performance and visual arts in the opening paragraphs and featured interviews with 3 other straight couples in the arts scene in Singapore.
However, it conspicuously omitted the gay, married, celebrity couple of Ivan Heng and Tony Trickett. In a Facebook post, Heng wrote on Saturday, 13 February 2016, that they had agreed to be part of the feature and was interviewed by journalist Mayo Martin.
"We’ve been informed that the section featuring me and Tony was pulled at the last minute by the higher editors because “it didn’t fit with the rest of the profiles throughout the couples series of stories.” We note that we were not even mentioned in the list of couples running theatre companies in the opening paragraphs." Heng asked, "What could this mean? Would the higher editors care to identify themselves and explain their decision?"
Lesbian couple's wedding celebrations supported by familyEdit
On 9 April 2018, LGBT website Dear Straight People featured the story of Gillyn and Jolyn who managed to get married openly in Singapore with the full support of their family and extended relatives. Their wedding celebrations ran the full gamut from the traditional morning gatecrash and tea ceremonies to the sumptuous wedding banquet.
First positive media report of Singaporean gay marriageEdit
The first Singaporean gay marriage which was reported positively and given detailed coverage in the mainstream media was that of actor-singer Caleb Goh and his partner who declined to be named for the Yahoo! News article. They got hitched on 16 December 2018 in the historic Presidio Park in San Diego, California.
Li Huanwu marries Heng Yirui in South AfricaEdit
Barely one week after Taiwan made history on 17 May 2019 when it became the first jurisdiction in Asia to legalise gay marriage, Li Huanwu, the grandson of the late Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, married his long-time male partner on Friday, 24 May 2019 in South Africa where same-sex marriage was legalised in 2006,.
“Today I marry my soul mate. Looking forward to a lifetime of moments like this with (Huanwu),” wrote Heng Yirui, Li’s partner, on his personal Instagram account in a post from Cape Town on the evening of Friday, 24 May 2019.
Heng is a veterinarian while Li is the vice-president of a tech company and the second son of Lee Hsien Yang, who is the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Lee Hsien Yang said, “I believe my father would have been thrilled to know this.” (see main article: Lee Kuan Yew's views on homosexuality).
“Today would have been unimaginable to us growing up. We are overjoyed to share this occasion in the glowing company of friends and family,” they said in a statement to Pink Dot Singapore.
Li had gone public about his partner more than a year before the wedding. In July 2018, he and Heng appeared in an LGBT-themed photography exhibition called Out In Singapore. Both had also attended Pink Dot at Hong Lim Park since 2017.
Alternative media sites in Singapore, including Mothership and The Independent, were quick to pick up on the announcement while mainstream media outlets steered clear of reporting it. Mothership’s Facebook post attracted 1,700 likes and 400 comments, mostly positive and congratulating the pair. One user, Donna Lim, commented: “Congrats! Love has no boundaries.”
In mainland China, multiple posts of Li’s wedding surfaced on social media app WeChat, which have garnered hundreds of likes and comments as of Saturday afternoon, 25 May 2019. A few reacted with disdain but many of the Chinese commentators also congratulated the couple, with some hoping that Li would front the fight for gay rights in Singapore.
- Same-sex marriage
- Same-sex parenting in Singapore
- Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code
- ROM's marriage annulment after sex change saga
- "Singaporeans still conservative about certain social issues, says IPS survey", Channel News Asia, January 2014.
- Reena Devi, "I saw him among my audience: Actor-singer Caleb Goh on how he met his husband", Yahoo! News, 8 March 2018.
- Sylvia Tan, "Singapore newspaper called out for omitting gay power couple in Valentine's Day feature", Gay Star News, 14 February 2016.
This article was written by Roy Tan.