AFP: Singapore gays unfazed by sex ban (Oct 24)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Singapore gays unfazed by sex ban

Agence France-Presse

SINGAPORE -- Singapore's gay community vowed Wednesday to press on with a public education campaign after parliament rejected their petition to repeal a law making sex between men a crime.

"There is no turning back," said the organizers of a campaign that failed in its bid to repeal the law.

They said they were disappointed that parliament rejected their petition to abolish section 377A of the Penal Code.

"We come away from this experience with great optimism that this is but the start of a process of public education, understanding, acceptance and respect for the gay community," they said in a statement.

The city-state's parliament on Tuesday approved the first major penal code amendments in 22 years, including legalization of oral and anal sex for heterosexuals.

But legislators retained a section that criminalizes sex between men, ditching a rare petition brought before the legislature to abolish the law, which petitioners say violates constitutional provisions for equal treatment.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, explaining his government's position, said Singapore remains a conservative society and gays will not be allowed to set the tone.

Lee said abolishing the law could "send the wrong signal" and push gay activists to ask for more concessions, such as same-sex marriage.

He said, however, that homosexuals will be given space to live their own lives as long as they do not actively advocate their lifestyle.

The tone of society, "remains straight and we want it to remain so," Lee said.

Campaigners were unfazed.

"The gay community in Singapore is here to stay. We are not going away," their statement said.

"It's not just a gay thing. It's about equality."

Proponents of a repeal and those who wanted the law retained organized rival online petitions to support their causes.

Two days of heated debate in parliament touched on moral values and the need to maintain the family as the basic building block of society.

"I think the vast majority of Singaporeans want it this way. So does the government," Lee said Tuesday.