ST: NMP files petition to House on gay sex law (Oct 17)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

By Keith Lin
The Straits Times, Oct 17, 2007

Siew Kum Hong submits Parliamentary Petition on behalf of group; more than 1,000 signatures collected

Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong has filed a petition to Parliament on behalf of a group that wants the Government to repeal a law that makes gay sex a crime.

At 9.45am yesterday, Mr Siew walked into Parliament House to submit the Parliamentary Petition, which is a request by the people on a particular issue.

It seeks to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, which forbids men from having sex with each other, whether in public or in private.

The Straits Times understands that more than 1,000 people from all walks of life signed the petition during the three-day drive to get signatures. It ended on Sunday.

A spokesman for the Office of the Clerk of Parliament, which is the House's secretariat, yesterday indicated that the petition is being examined to ensure its compliance with specified requirements.

Should it be certified as being in order, Mr Siew will get to read a summary of it and its 'prayer' - legal parlance for plea or request - when Parliament sits next Monday.

Wide-ranging changes to the Penal Code, which governs most criminal offences here, are expected to be debated then.

Following the Code's latest review, the Government has said it will keep the existing law on gay sex as Singapore is a largely conservative society.

But it made clear this law will not be strictly enforced.

The petition argues that this is discriminatory, as oral and anal sex between consenting adult heterosexuals will be legal under the proposed changes.

The idea for a petition was suggested to Mr Siew by its two lead signatories, lawyer George Hwang and Mr Stuart Koe, chief executive of gay media company

Mr Siew, a lawyer, said he agreed to submit it as its arguments were 'valid' and 'cogent'.

'Here, we have a compelling argument, based on the fundamental protections guaranteed by the Constitution, that so many people agree with and support,' he said.

'I felt a responsibility to Singaporeans to present this to Parliament and give the House a chance to consider the petition.'

The petition, once read, will be referred to the Public Petitions Committee, which will discuss its contents and file a report on it to MPs.

Mr Siew has said he intends to file a motion to debate the committee's report.

MP Baey Yam Keng, one of eight members on the committee, noted that it is technically possible for changes to be made to laws during parliamentary debates.

History however has shown that such changes are unlikely, he added.

Such petitions are rare. The last one was in 1985, when former Workers' Party chief J.B. Jeyaretnam did it on behalf of Mr Sivadas Sankaran, who took issue with certain parliamentary privileges.