365Gay.com: Singapore Lawmakers Debate Anti-Gay Sodomy Law (Oct 22)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Singapore Lawmakers Debate Anti-Gay Sodomy Law

by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff

Posted: October 22, 2007 - 1:00 pm ET

(Singapore) Singapore politicians engaged in a heated debate on homosexuality Monday as the city state's Parliament considered a sweeping revision of the penal code that fails to remove homosexual sodomy as a criminal offense.

Siew Kum Hong introduced a petition signed by 2,341 people calling for repeal of the law, that dates back to British colonial times. The names were gathered online in just three days the lawmaker told Parliament.

"In times past and in other countries, public morality has been used to justify slavery, discrimination against racial and religious minorities and discrimination against women," Siew said.

"Let us not perpetuate or repeat the mistakes of others in the past."

But the government showed no sign it was ready to do away with the law.

"Singaporeans are still largely conservative," said Ho Peng Kee, the senior cabinet minister responsible for the new penal code.

"The majority find homosexual behavior offensive and unacceptable."

Ho suggested that in time the government might introduce an amendment.

"We should live and let live, and let the situation evolve, in tandem to the values of society," he said.

Police have not laid a charge for a number of years, but LGBT rights groups in the city state have been actively lobbying for its repeal.

In April, Lee Kuan Yew, the man regarded as the father of modern Singapore, called for the decriminalization of gay sex laws. (story)

"If in fact it is true, and I have asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual — because that's the nature of the genetic random transmission of genes — you can't help it. So why should we criminalize it," Lee, who served as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990 and is the father of current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, told a youth rally.

The changes to the criminal code allowing opposite-sex couples to engage in sodomy without fear of prosecution are to be debated October 22. The bill is the first overhaul of criminal law in Singapore in a quarter century.

Among the changes is a broadening of laws against "unlawful assembly."

That provision also has raised concerns among gay activists.

In August Singapore banned gay events held in public parks. The move came as gays were attempting to celebrate LGBT pride. (story)

Police lifted a permit to hold a picnic and fun run at a park saying politics were not welcome in green spaces.

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 of gays and lesbians was closed by police hours before it was to officially open.

The Media Development Authority balked at a book by author Ng Yi-Sheng about a young man's fictional sexual adventures with older men including military officers and government officials. (story)

The authority said that the book went beyond good taste and decency and disparaged public officers.

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. (story)

The board said that the show violated Singapore law because it promoted "a homosexual lifestyle".

In July, openly gay actor Ian McKellen told a Singapore radio audience that the law criminalizing homosexuality is archaic and has to be changed if the Asian city state wants to fulfill its goal of being a major economic player in the world. (story)

Sir Ian was in Singapore as part of a world tour by the Royal Shakespeare Company where he is staring in Shakespeare's "King Lear" and Chekhov's "The Seagull".

"Coming to Singapore where unfortunately you've still got those dreadful laws that we British left behind... it's about time Singapore grew up, I think, and realized that gay people are here to stay," he said.

©365Gay.com 2007