Singapore hears petition against ban on homosexual sex

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SINGAPORE, Oct 22 (Reuters) A Singaporean member of parliament today read a petition against the country's ban on sex between men, the first time such a proposal has been presented in the city-state's parliament.

Siew Kum Hong, a nominated member of parliament, told parliament the ban on private and consensual sex between men was unconstitutional.

Under Singapore's law 377A, a man found to have commited an act of ''gross indecency'' with another man could be jailed for up to two years, although prosecutions are rare.

''The petitioners have asked this house to repeal 377A,'' Siew said.

The petition, which has sparked a heated debate about family values, equality and love among Singaporeans, has prompted thousands to sign online letters to the prime minister to show their support or opposition for the proposed lifting of the ban.

Scores of the city-state's members of parliament today stood up in the usually staid parliament to join a passionate debate about homosexual sex and sodomy before the session was adjourned in the evening.

The Singapore government said last year it would not decriminalise sex between homosexuals even though it might legalise oral and anal sex between heterosexual adults, citing the need to protect the social mores of a conservative majority.

''Singaporeans are still largely conservative. The majority find homosexual behaviour offensive and unacceptable,'' Ho Peng Kee, a senior minister of state at the law and home affairs ministries, said today as he explained the government's decision to keep the ban after reviewing the penal code last year.

''We should live and let live, and let the situation evolve, in tandem to the values of society,'' Ho said.

But Singaporeans calling for the scrapping of the ban say the law not only discriminates against gays, but that its retention brings the law into disrepute because the ban is not strictly enforced.

''It's like having a gun held to your head but no one pulling the trigger. Either put the gun down or pull the trigger. Decide what you want to do,'' one of the signatories of the petition, said.

REUTERS SG PM1810

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