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Singapore’s gay sex law debate... anti-gay movement being led by religious right? (Al Jeezera)
25 Nov, 2007

Once seen as one of Asia’s most conservative states, Singapore has started to develop a reputation for its tolerance of homosexuality. But a recent attempt to repeal the law against it failed due in part to a conflict with the religious right. Tony Birtley reports.

Not known for being liberal Singapore has undergone something as a sexual revolution in recent years making it the so-called gay capital of Asia. More than a hundred thousand homosexuals and lesbians are said to live in the former British colony. This is just one of a string of clubs and bars now catering to the gay community.

But despite how modern and progressive Singapore appear to the outside world, homosexuality is still illegal here. It is on the statute books of Section 377A of the Penal Code.

Dr Stuart Koe, a campaigner to repeal the law: “The law is used as an excuse for many discriminatory policies and rules in Singapore. It is used to discriminate against homosexuals.”

The gay community was strongly behind the recent failed attempts to repeal Section 377A even though society here is privately tolerant of homosexuality and no one could remember the last anyone was prosecuted under the law. But it has provoked fierce debate.

Dr Thio Li-ann, Nominated Member of Parliament: “I would say that homosexuals actually have a lot of space in Singapore but what they tried to do was they tried to cross the line from toleration, which means I really disagree with you but you know, live and let live – I can live with that - to celebration, when they are saying endorse me… say that heterosexuality and homosexuality are morally equivalent.”

And ultimately the government didn’t endorse the gay community but the debate is still raging on with accusations flying around that the so called anti-gay movement is being led by a religious right similar to that in the United States.

Dr Koe: “The values that some of the fundamentalists are trying to promote are certainly those of, I would even call it, hate, bigotry and I don’t think those are the values we want to have in Singapore.”

Christians make up 15 percent of the Singapore population. They say they are for family values, not bigotry.

Dr Thio: “I know as fact that people can change. I know there’s a hope and I want to preserve an environment where if the people who could identify themselves as homosexuals if they want to change they can get the help.”

Within Chinese families in particular, homosexuality is an extremely contentious issue.

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