Singapore gay rights drive meets opposition

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A group calling itself “The Majority” has set up a website asking the government of Singapore to retain laws outlawing homosexual sex.

An online letter to the country’s Prime Minister asks him to “do what is right and retain Section 377A for the future of our children and our nation.”

Laws established during colonial times mean that same-sex relationships are punishable by fines and jail time.

Thousands of Singaporeans have signed an online petition calling for the government to decriminalise homosexual sex, ahead of a parliamentary debate on the first overhaul of criminal law in Singapore in a quarter century.

Parliament is expected to discuss a motion next week tabled by MP Siew Kum Hong repealing the laws that make gay sex a crime.

Mr Siew told The New Paper that he is not gay, and said the issue was larger than gay rights.

“I truly do believe that Section 377A is unfair, unjust, and plain wrong,” he said.

“It is contrary to principles of equality and non-discrimination, and it seeks to use the criminal law to enforce a specific moral view which is contrary to accepted fundamental precepts of criminal law.”

Mr Martin Tan, who organised the pro-Section 377A website, told Today newspaper.

“What the gay community does in private is their private space. We just do not want our country’s legislation to change just for a small minority who are vocal.”

Earlier this week local celebrities created a YouTube “propaganda rap” to take a stance against draconian laws and to get voters to get involved to help repeal law 377A.

Singapore is a country known for its ultra conservative laws and social activism is not very common in their society making the statements all the more compelling.

Since the start of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s regime from 1959 to 1990, there has been an open ban of gay films, art, theatre and public displays of homosexuality such as Pride events and gay sporting tournaments.

Lee, who remains a prominent figure in Singaporean politics, has since changed his tune about gays and is now advocating a repeal of some of the laws that make homosexuality illegal.

Last month, he helped sponsor a petition that would abolish laws forbidding oral and anal sex between consenting heterosexual adults.

However, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a local university forum last month that while Singapore recognises and respects homosexuals, changing the law would be “a very divisive argument. We will not reach consensus however much we discuss it.

“The tone of the society, the public, and society as a whole, should be really set by the heterosexuals and that’s the way many Singaporeans feel,” he added.

“Our view, as a government, is we will go with society … What people do in private is their own business; in public, certain norms apply.”

The government has assured the local gay community that it would not actively prosecute them but gay rights advocates say that it is not enough.

Iconic British actor Sir Ian McKellen has not waned in his determination to keep gay rights on the agenda in Singapore.

During a morning television interview this week to promote a pantomime he is starring in, he asked the male presenter if he could recommend any decent gay bars.

“I looked at the playback of the programme afterwards and I’ve never seen the credits come up (on the screen) so quickly,” he said.