Attitudes towards Same-Sex Relations in Singapore – A Bizarre Trend
The survey results published by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) earlier this year points to an interesting trend in Singaporean attitudes towards different degrees of same-sex relationships.
“When it came to sexual relations between two adults of the same sex, 78.2 per cent of respondents said it was wrong. And 72.9 per cent did not agree with gay marriage. However, fewer disagreed with gay couples adopting a child, with 61 per cent saying it was wrong or almost always wrong…” 
The results are puzzling.
In most Western liberal societies, pro-gay legislations are differentiated along a spectrum. On one end, lies the legalization of gay sex. In the middle, is the legalizing of same-sex marriage; and finally on the end of the spectrum, the legalization of adoption by gay parents and the acceptance of family unit led by homosexual couples.
Conservatives oppose gay families more so than gay marriage, and gay marriage much more so than gay sex. Liberals also follow this spectrum. They take the legality of gay sex for granted, and view gay marriage as a sign of a homosexual-friendly society, much more so a society where gay families are prevalent.
Why then, in Singapore, is the opposite true? Singaporeans seem to oppose gay sex more than gay marriage, and gay marriage more than gay couples adopting a child. The margins are also significant; being 78, 73 and 61 percent respectively. Furthermore, the survey size of 40,000 respondents indicates that the results ought to be taken seriously. Granted that the number should be increasing in the opposite direction, as in other places, this trend is puzzling.
There could be several explanations for this.
First, it may be possible that respondents are affected by an incomplete understanding of same-sex relationships. They may, for example, see same-sex sexual relationships as only between two males, but imagine that only female gay couples adopt children, and are therefore more acceptable of the latter than the former. Note that adoption laws in Singapore do not permit non-married males to adopt children.
This assumption is false. In countries where gay couples can adopt children, there is no significant disparity in the adoption rates of male and female gay couples. However, this explanation would not explain why gay marriage is more accepted than gay sex. After all, does the former not encompass the latter?
Second, it may also be possible that the hype surrounding homosexual intercourse in contrast to the lack of any real discourse concerning gay marriage or the adoption of children by gay couples has caused the public to be more polarized over the issue of gay sex. Perhaps to many Singaporeans, gay marriage and the adoption of a child by gay couples are both so unimaginable in this country that they fail to have any real opinion about it.
Finally, consider the possibility that perhaps our values are crafted by what is law more so than the other way around. 377A criminalizes sex between two gay men, and is widely publicized as compared to our laws against same-sex marriage and adoptions by same-sex couples. It is possible that Singaporean society not only views the law as a subjective moral compass, designed to reflect public values, but sees it as a source of authority on what their values should be. There is a stark difference between the two – in shaping the law according to one’s values, versus adopting one’s values according to what is law.
If it were truly the former, then why is the campaign against allowing same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples more prevalent than the repeal of 377A? One may argue that 377A is more punitive and denies same-sex couples a more fundamental right as compared to the inability to marry. However, given the statistics, the absence of any discourse surrounding the latter, as well as the differences in attitudes across the spectrum is surprising.
Perhaps there is more to the psyche of Singaporeans regarding the acceptability of different degrees of same-sex relationships that can explain this bizarre statistical observation.