Gay Rights an Issue in Singapore

Members of Singapore's Christian community have ignited a rising controversy over gay rights, to the point where the Attorney-General Chambers has reminded all parties that the High Court is hearing two cases on a section of the penal code which criminalizes sexual acts between men, and that any comments "calculated to affect the minds of the courts hearing the case" will be held in contempt of court.

The current controversy began with a statement from Senior Pastor Lawrence Khong of the Faith Community Baptist Church, made during a visit to the church by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, the former prime minister.

During his address, Khong appealed to Goh for the Singapore government to retain Section 377A of the Penal Code, which states that "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years."

The code was amended in 2007 to remove criminal sanctions on lesbians and other offenders, but kept the stricture against gay men. The government has promised that the law will not be "proactively enforced" although the topic has once again gained public attention as challenges to the section are pending in court. Two applications had been taken out against the section, one by a gay couple and another by a man initially charged under the section.

Last July, the government tolerated a gay rights organization called Pink Dot that drew more than 15,000 people to a local park to celebrate different sexual orientations. The movement has gained larger and larger crowds every year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in debate over the amending the law in 2007, told Singapore's parliament that "Singapore is basically a conservative society...The family is the basic building block of this society. And by family in Singapore we mean one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit."

Fundamentalist American-style mega-churches that peddle religion, showbiz and virulent social conservatism have been gaining strength in a society that has always maintained an uneasy balance over religion. The government has allowed plenty of it as long as it doesn't get too fervent.

However, the new evangelical churches for instance have been making explicit attacks on homosexuality, claiming in defiance of all medical expertise and any notion of equality and common sense that it can and should be "cured."

Khong's statement, which was also posted on his Facebook page, attracted a flurry of comments, many of which were pro-gay rights. The reaction led to a series of posts addressing "the homosexual agenda" and charges that the repeal of the prohibition would "open the door for the advancement of the homosexual agenda in Singapore." With the patriotic call of "Majulah Singapura" (Onward Singapore), Khong encouraged Singaporeans to oppose the repeal.

Khong's message to Goh was picked up by Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong from the Cornerstone Community Church, whose blog post initially said "the church must get herself into battle footing, and be battle-ready" against the LGBT community. The post has since been edited.

The two pastors are also leading members of LoveSingapore, a network that represents about 40,000 Christians in the country. The network has stated that it would organize to oppose the repeal of Section 377A.

"If they [the LGBT community] had not pushed for the repeal, we would not come out into the public square," Yang told The Straits Times. "You touch a law that affects us, we have the right to speak up."

Many Singaporeans have responded to the anti-gay sentiment. Actor Lim Yu Beng posted an open letter to Khong, asking, "Nobody is making it compulsory for him to be gay. Why should he make it compulsory for others to be straight?"

Reverend Miak Siew from the Free Community Church also penned a response: "The repeal of 377A poses no threat to families bound together by love. Instead, the idea of a "traditional family" is a threat to all families - because it has placed obstacles in how parents understand their children who are different and it has made people who do not fit in - whether they are single parents, divorcees, or children who are orphaned, whose parents are not around by circumstance - ashamed of who they are."

(Kirsten Han blogs for Asian Correspondent. A version of this story appeared on that website)


We last as long as you care. Subscribe to Asia Sentinel. Click here to subscribe