SINGAPORE (AFP) — Singapore's government does not want to endorse a homosexual lifestyle, a senior cabinet minister said Monday, as parliament debated a rare petition to repeal a law that criminalises gay sex.
A member of parliament filed the petition to repeal the relevant part of the Penal Code on the grounds that it is discriminatory and violates constitutional safeguards on equal rights.
It was the first time in more than two decades that parliament had heard a petition, local radio reported, and coincided with debate on the most extensive amendments to the city-state's Penal Code in 22 years.
The MP, Siew Kum Hong, who is not gay, said the government's proposed changes would allow anal and oral sex between two consenting heterosexual adults.
However refusing to decriminalise the same acts between homosexual and bisexual men is discrimination, said Siew, who filed the petition after an online campaign to repeal the section.
Arguing for the section to be retained, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, Ho Peng Kee, said Singapore remains a largely conservative society.
"While homosexuals have a place in society... repealing section 377A will be contentious and may send a wrong signal that the government is encouraging and endorsing the homosexual lifestyle as part of our mainstream way of life," Ho said.
Public feedback on the issue had been "emotional, divided and strongly expressed," he said, but most people wanted to retain the section.
"The majority find homosexual behaviour offensive and unacceptable," Ho added," noting that police nevertheless have been lenient in implementing the law.
However, Siew said private, consensual sexual acts between adult males would "not impact on the safety and security of society."
"Now is the time, not to do the pragmatic or easy thing, but to do the right thing," he said.
Stuart Koe, chief executive of the Asian gay portal, Fridae.com, and one of the people behind the petition, said that for gays in Singapore, Section 377A has been like "a gun pointed to their heads."
Singapore celebrities joined the campaign to repeal the anti-gay sex section by appearing in a rap video posted on the YouTube website.
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