Explainer | Explained: gay rights, LGBTQ and same-sex marriage in Asia
- Taiwan and Australia are beacons of progress for the region’s LGBTQ community and India’s improving – but Hong Kong, not so much
- And critics say Indonesia and Malaysia are going backwards
LGBTQ activists have made significant progress in the Asia-Pacific in recent years but only a minority of countries recognise same-sex unions. Homosexuality remains illegal in some countries where same-sex intercourse can be punished by fines, caning or prison sentences.
However, in November 2018, the self-ruled island’s reputation as Asia’s LGBTQ rights beacon was dealt a blow as voters rejected same-sex marriage in a series of referendums.
Taiwan’s government submitted a draft bill in February that would grant same-sex couples similar legal protections for marriage as heterosexual ones. If the bill is passed, it will be Asia’s first same-sex marriage law.
Nepal is widely believed to be the first country to register its citizens under a third gender category in its 2011 nationwide census.
Bangladesh’s authorities recently announced that it would add a third gender option to voting forms but homosexuality is still against the law.
‘Giant step forward for equality’ in Hong Kong as same-sex couples win right to spousal visas in Court of Final Appeal
Last September, India’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down a colonial-era ban on gay sex. Activists have been challenging Section 377 of the penal code since the 1990s.
The city state has not repealed Section 377A of the penal code, but the conservative Singaporean government has said in previous public statements that it will not proactively enforce the colonial-era law.
In December, Singapore’s High Court allowed a same-sex couple to adopt their surrogate son. The government, which does not support the formation of families by same-sex couples, may strengthen adoption regulations in response to the landmark decision.
Same-sex marriages are not explicitly banned under Japanese law but the matter has been long debated by legal scholars. Article 24 of the 1947 Constitution states “marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis”. Japanese governments have usually interpreted that to mean marriage shall be between people of different genders. As a result, most municipal governments, which register marriages, refuse to accept the paperwork required to file a marriage between same-sex couples. Yet nine Japanese cities have adopted the partnership ordinances and five more cities are planning for similar systems in the year ahead.
Since 2016, the state-sanctioned crackdown against the gay community, including police raids and arrests at private spaces such as homes, nightclubs and saunas has struck terror into Indonesia’s LGBTQ population.
Under pressure from hardline Islamic groups, Indonesian lawmakers are considering proposed law changes that would criminalise same-sex relations and extramarital sex.
Gay sex is criminalised under Section 377A of the penal code and anything that offends religious sensitivities is punishable by the blasphemy law.