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18 Oct 2007

singapore's repeal s377A petition tops 2,500 signatures

The parliamentary petition organised last weekend had garnered 2,519 signatures from Singaporeans and Singapore residents, organisers revealed in a press statement on Thursday.

An 18-year-old student emailed organisers and pleaded to have the Sunday deadline extended by a day, as she wanted to get her schoolmates to sign when classes resumed on Monday. She brought in 70 signatures. A 53-yr-old Eurasian woman, currently living in Johor Bahru, made her way through customs and immigration, just so she could make her submission. A Singaporean living in Hong Kong had his signed petition couriered to Singapore overnight. Law students from a local university canvassed over the weekend for signatures at popular nightspots.

All in all, 2,519 people from all walks of life regardless of sexual orientation signed in support of the Parliamentary Petition to urge the repeal of Penal Code Section 377A over 3 days.

Under proposed changes to the Penal Code, Section 377A which criminalises sexual activity between men whether in public or in private, will be retained although Section 377 which criminalises anal and oral sex between an adult male and female will be repealed.

Organisers say that although the official number of signatures accepted by the Clerk of Parliament is not known, the petition has been endorsed and will likely be debated upon, when NMP Siew Kum Hong presents the Petition to Parliament at its next sitting on Oct 22.

The signing of the petition is governed by specific rules, as laid out in the Standing Orders of Parliament. Signatories are required to provide their full name and address, as well as an obviously unique signature, before the entry is deemed to be valid.

Meanwhile, the Online Letter to the Prime Letter, which closes on Oct 19, has crossed the 6,000-signature mark at the time of writing. The hard copy of the letter and signatures will be submitted to the Prime Minister next week.

The petitioners named in the petition are Singaporean lawyer, George Hwang, Dr. Stuart Koe, Chief Executive Officer of gay Asian portal, Fridae.com and Tan Joo Hymn, a full time mother.

Ms. Tan said: "We were certainly moved by some of the stories we heard. Judging by the number of signatures we gathered, across a wide spectrum of concerned individuals with differing backgrounds, it unequivocally proves that this is an issue of concern for all Singaporeans, not just the gay community. It is about non-discrimination and the constitutional rights of a minority group. As our Prime Minister has said, the government endeavours to create an environment where an individual has maximum space to live his life without impinging on other people."

Dr Koe added: "I believe the Singapore society has matured very quickly over the years, to be more inclusive and accepting of people from all walks of life. We are seeing parents of gay children publicly voicing their support by signing on the petition, and we have been receiving heartfelt comments by family and friends of gay persons on the repeal377a.com site pleading for the section to be repealed. This is a call by Singaporeans to embrace the diversity within our society."

While organisers and NMP Siew are aware of the odds stacked against them given the rarity of petitions of this nature and with the last known petition made in 1985, they stress that the exercise is part of the democratic process that Singaporeans in general - regardless of their personal stand on the issue - should appreciate.

In reviving the use of the parliamentary petition, Mr Hwang remarked: "The Standing Orders for Parliament provide for this mechanism. Though, it has not often been used, it is there for the people when the situation calls. Here, the petition is about voicing this very important issue of equality and non-discrimination, rights guaranteed by our Constitution. We may have opposing moral views on homosexuality, but that is not the issue here. The issue is whether we should set a precedent for the discrimination of minorities. This not only blemishes Singapore's reputation as a democracy, but more importantly, our constitutional history."

NMP was quoted as saying in The New Paper on Thursday: "Some people have told me that they did not sign the petition because they disagreed with the repeal of Section 377A, but they fully appreciate the effort and the process being undertaken. And they felt the petition was a good thing, despite disagreeing on the merits.

"They are able to differentiate between the process and the issue, and they understand the petition as a democratic process even though they disagree in substance. And that is heartening to me, because it is what democracy is about."

NMP Siew will present the petition to Parliament at its next sitting on Oct 22 when a number of issues about the proposed Penal Code amendments will be discussed.

Update: The petition was submitted with a total of 2,341 signatures.

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