Hundreds of Singaporeans are 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.
Under the proposed changes to be debated later this month, oral and anal sex between consenting heterosexual adults will no longer be considered an offence.
However, the same acts between men, will remain illegal with a maximum penalty of two years in jail.
Gay rights advocates have labelled the clause, known as Section 377A as “Victorian legislation” that discriminates against a minority group and violates an individual’s right to privacy.
A protest was launched on Friday by Singapore’s LGBT organisations, including an online petition to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, which by Tuesday had gathered nearly 2,500 signatories.
Petition organiser Alan Seah said in a statement that by keeping the clause, “we are in fact moving backwards, which defeats the government’s goals of updating our criminal laws to keep in step with Singapore’s image as a modern and forward thinking country.”
Earlier this year, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew acknowledged that some people were “genetically born a homosexual” and “can’t help it. So why should we criminalise it?”
His comments raised hopes that Section 377A would be abolished.
According to AP, 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.
“It is the responsibility of any democratically elected government to protect minorities from the ‘tyranny of the majority,” argues the online petition.
“Far more conservative countries have done away with laws like these and are none the worse for it.”
In August Singapore banned gay events planned for public parks.
The move came as gays were attempting to celebrate LGBT pride.
Censors refused to allow an LGBT book reading event that was to have been part of the pride celebration, a human rights forum was blocked and a photography exhibit of gays and lesbians was closed by police hours before it was to officially open.
The human rights forum was to have featured Douglas Sanders, a professor emeritus in law at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University.
The forum, titled “Sexual Orientation in International Law: The Case of Asia,” was deemed contrary to public interest.
The censorship board ordered the photo exhibition closed because it showed photos of gay men and women kissing.
The board said that the show violated Singapore law because it promoted “a homosexual lifestyle.”