Featured News Same-sex couples find their own way

Media Releases

Thu, 23 Dec 2021

Same-sex couples find their own way

Gay couple
Image: Nick Karvounis

A James Cook University study of how gay men maintain their long-term relationships in countries where homosexual practices are illegal has uncovered how couples overcome the obstacles to their love.

JCU PhD candidate Muhamad Alif Bin Ibrahim led the study in conjunction with Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, Dr Joanna Barlas.

Mr Ibrahim said a 2020 study found 72 countries still criminalise consensual, private, same-sex activities, with 11 imposing the death penalty.

For their study, the researchers interviewed Chinese and Malay gay men in Singapore who had been in a successful relationship for more than five years.

“Singapore encourages gay tourism. But homosexuality is still a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. The government says it does not support gay and lesbian couples forming families,” said Mr Ibrahim.

He added that LGBTQ individuals are tolerated for their contribution to the Singapore economy but otherwise discriminated against and prevented from attaining full benefits of citizenship.

“The debilitating effects of socio-political stigma and discrimination on same-sex couples have been extensively studied. All participants in the study described how they anticipated and experienced stigma and discrimination from their social networks and the broader society,” said Mr Ibrahim.

He said the men relied on an attitude of ‘making do with things they could not change’, being resilient, and a belief their love would overcome any obstacle.

“But compared to their counterparts in societies less socially and politically conservative than Singapore, study participants also utilised collectivistic coping strategies more.

“Most adjusted and accommodated to the socio-political context in Singapore, rather than directly confronting situations they felt powerless to change. Most reframed their thoughts and responses to adapt to their current circumstances positively,” said Mr Ibrahim.

He said the majority of participants preferred living amicably alongside the broader Singapore community while finding peaceful ways to obtain equality and rights - and the instinct towards social harmony often worked both ways.

“One interviewee told us his partner’s parents always treated him like a godson, including him in family events and activities. They know he is a very close friend, they may not acknowledge him exactly as a partner, but they are very accepting,” said Mr Ibrahim.

He said no matter what sources of support they had, most participants believed that their relationships were stronger than the socio-political challenges.

“They believed in strengthening their relationship from within, growing together and supporting each other while continuing to evolve as a couple to overcome the stressors they faced,” said Mr Ibrahim.


Muhamad Alif Bin Ibrahim
E: muhamadalif.binibrahim@my.jcu.edu.au