Homosexuality is not a crime, Singaporeans argued their government ahead of a parliamentary debate on the most extensive revision of the city-state's penal code in 23 years.
Under the proposed changes to be debated Oct. 22, oral and anal sex between consenting heterosexual adults will no longer be considered an offense. But Section 377A, which deals with the same acts between men, will remain in force with a maximum penalty of two years in jail.
Gay rights advocates say the clause is "Victorian legislation" that discriminates against a minority group and violates an individual's right to privacy. They launched a protest Friday, including an online petition to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, which by Tuesday had garnered more than 2,200 signatories.
"There is a small window of opportunity here to try to get our leaders to consider repealing Section 377A," petition organizer Alan Seah said in a statement. By keeping the clause, "we are in fact moving backwards, which defeats the government's goals of updating our criminal laws to keep in step with Singapore's image as a modern and forward thinking country," he said.
Earlier this year, Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew acknowledged that some people were "genetically born a homosexual" and "can't help it. So why should we criminalize it?" raising hopes that Section 377A would be abolished.
But the government, while welcoming gays into the civil service and permitting gay bars and spas in the city's center, maintains that Singapore remains a conservative society.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a local university forum last month that while Singapore recognizes and respects homosexuals, changing the law would be "a very divisive argument. We will not reach consensus however much we discuss it."
"The tone of the society, the public, and society as a whole, should be really set by the heterosexuals and that's the way many Singaporeans feel," he said. "Our view, as a government, is we will go with society ... What people do in private is their own business; in public, certain norms apply."
The government has assured the local gay community that it would not actively prosecute them but gay rights advocates say that it is not enough.
"It is the responsibility of any democratically elected government to protect minorities from the 'tyranny of the majority,"' argues the online petition. "Far more conservative countries have done away with laws like these and are none the worse for it."