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Singapore relaxes sex law but not for gays

SINGAPORE (AFP) - - Singapore on Tuesday legalised oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples but retained a law which criminalises intercourse between gay men.

In the city-state's first major penal code amendments in 22 years, parliament repealed a section criminalising "carnal intercourse against the order of nature."

Parliament however kept the penal code's section 377A, which makes sex between men a criminal offence, rejecting a petition by gay-rights activists and their non-homosexual supporters to abolish the law as well.

Opponents of the law say it is a relic of British colonial rule. The law punishes offenders with up to two years in jail, although it has rarely been enforced.

Under the just-approved amendments, new offences were enacted to tackle child prostitution and sex tourism as well as cover crimes committed with the use of technology such as the Internet and mobile phone text messaging.

But a rare petition read in parliament to abolish the law banning sex between men sparked the most passionate debates in the normally staid legislature dominated by the ruling People's Action Party.

Legislators supporting the law's retention centred their arguments on the need to maintain family and moral values in the conservative Asian society, while proponents appealed for equal treatment of minorities guaranteed by the constitution.

Member of parliament Siew Kum Hong, who supported the petition, said legalising sexual acts between two consenting heterosexual adults while refusing to decriminalise the same acts between homosexual men was discriminatory.

But Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong weighed in for the retention of the law, saying that Singapore remains a conservative society -- with the traditional family as its main building bloc -- and homosexuals cannot set the tone for the mainstream.

Abolishing the law could "send the wrong signal" and push gay activists to ask for more concessions, such as same-sex marriage and parenting, Lee said.

Gays "are free to lead their lives and pursue their social activities," the prime minister said, citing the existence of gay websites and gay bars.

"But there are restraints, and we do not approve of them setting the tone of mainstream society," he said.

"They live their lives, that's their personal space. But the tone of the overall society, I think, it remains conventional, it remains straight and we want it to remain so."

Lee said keeping the statute unchanged while not aggressively enforcing it remained the best option.

Singapore would adapt to global economic changes in order to stay competitive, but must take a more cautious approach when it comes to moral values, Lee said.

"We were right to uphold the family unit when Western countries went for experimental lifestyles in the 1960s -- the hippies, free love," he said.

"But I'm glad we did that because today if you look at Western Europe, the marriage as an institution is dead, families have broken down, the majority of children are born out of wedlock and live in families where the father and the mother are not husband and wife living together bringing them up."

Gay rights activists say the law against homosexual sex affects about 200,000 people in the wealthy island-republic of more than four million.

Singapore relaxes sex law but not for gays - Yahoo! Singapore News
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