Washington International Law Journal


A comparative analysis of incrementalist approaches to gay rights as they are deployed in the United States and Singapore demonstrates that seeking gay rights in a full democracy is actually no better than seeking them in an authoritarian regime. Incrementalism ultimately promotes sexual normativity by dividing the gay community into “good gays,” who deserve equal protections, and “bad queers,” who are further marginalized. Incrementalism in the United States began with decriminalization of sodomy and terminated with the recognition of gay marriage but did so by imagining gay sexuality within the context of committed relationships. The gay rights movement in Singapore is currently challenging the constitutionality of the country’s anti-sodomy statute, but has also encountered problems with bifurcating good gays from bad queers. Singaporean gay rights advocacy has adopted an approach that looks similar to incrementalism in the United States, but is actually adapted as a strategy of survival within the authoritarian structures of its illiberal democratic government. Dissecting these similarities shows how gay rights in the United States has acquiesced to a similar, but more hidden, disciplinary regime of social control that venerates marriage as an imagined ideal and suppresses other forms of sexual expression. The recent decision by the Singapore judiciary to reject the good gay and bad queer dichotomy and treat the two similarly, however, has forced gay rights advocacy to adapt and imagine a different and more unified strategy than in the United States.

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