Singapore, Vietnam ease anti-gay laws; Indonesia urged to look other way
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Singapore, Vietnam ease anti-gay laws; Indonesia urged to look other way

Indonesian Ulema Council chairman says LGBT community is ‘condemned’ by all six state-recognised religions, even though homosexuality is not illegal in country

Woman wrapped in the rainbow flag is seen at the Pink Dot rally, Singapore's annual gay pride rally, at a park in Singapore, on July 1, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)
Woman wrapped in the rainbow flag is seen at the Pink Dot rally, Singapore's annual gay pride rally, at a park in Singapore, on July 1, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

Indonesia’s top Islamic scholars have urged Jakarta not to follow the lead of neighbouring countries in decriminalising gay sex, as many in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation continue to view same-sex relationships as deviant.

Singapore on Sunday said it would repeal a colonial-era law that criminalises sex between men, a development that comes as Indonesia seeks input from the public on a controversial new criminal code bill. The proposed law contains articles such as one that would penalise extramarital sex, which many see as discriminating against LGBTs as same-sex marriage is illegal in Indonesia.

Jeje Zainudin, one of the chairmen at Indonesian Ulema Council or MUI, told conservative-leaning publication Republica that the LGBT community was “condemned” by all six state-recognised religions.

“We, as Indonesians, who have a different constitution from Vietnam and Singapore, of course, should not imitate [them] by legalising LGBT behaviour, which is condemned in the view of all religions adopted in Indonesia,” Jeje said on Monday.

Vietnam’s health ministry earlier this month ruled that homosexuality was not a disease and also outlawed conversion therapy.

Jeje said Jakarta must continue to “monitor the development of LGBT [lifestyles]” and work with religious organisations to “continue educating the public about the prohibition of sex outside of marriage and the dangers of same-sex sexual relations from the point of view of religious norms, social morals, and health”.

Muhammad Cholil Nafis, head of MUI’s da’wah commission which spearheads efforts to embrace Islam, also said same-sex marriage was unlikely to become legal in Indonesia, as “[our law] is clear, that a marriage can only occur between [a couple] from different sexes”

Homosexuality and extramarital sex are not illegal in Indonesia, except in Aceh, the only province that enforces sharia or Islamic law, where same-sex relationships are punishable by up to 100 lashes of the whip.

However, discrimination against the LGBT community has been on the rise across Indonesia in recent years, typically stoked by sharia-inspired local regulations or provoking comments made by officials or religious leaders.

Unlike in Vietnam, conversion therapy also remains a common practice in Indonesia, typically carried out by Islamic clerics in neighbourhood mosques.

Muslim protesters hold an anti-LGBT rally outside a mosque in the provincial capital Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia, on Feb 2, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

Many Indonesians were stunned upon finding out that gay sex was a criminal offence in Singapore, which is typically seen as a more progressive community by its larger neighbour.

“I just found out that previously gay sex was banned in Singapore, but it has never been enforced. In Indonesia, on the other hand, we like to find excuses to make raids [on the LGBT-friendly places] even though it’s never been banned here,” Twitter user Nathaniel Rayestu said.

Another user pointed out that while gay sex was not a crime in Indonesia, “the society here is not as progressive” as in Singapore.

- ‘Generation gap’ -

LGBT rights in Indonesia came under fresh scrutiny this week when a viral video showed a university student in South Sulawesi being kicked out from an event on campus after telling their lecturers they identified as non-binary.

Supporters of the student said the lecturers had no right to question students’ sexual and gender identity as these were personal matters. Critics also pointed out the irony of the incident happening in Sulawesi, a region whose local culture recognises five genders, including one called bissu, which is neither male nor female.

Dede Oetomo, a long-time campaigner for LGBT rights in Indonesia, said the discourse surrounding the topic in the past days underscored how a “generation gap” could complicate Indonesia’s acceptance towards marginalised sexual communities.

A 2018 survey of 1220 people by pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting found that the acceptance rate towards LGBT members was higher in respondents aged below 25, compared to those 55 and older. Among respondents aged below 21, 51.1% said they would accept LGBT family members, while the acceptance rate was higher for those aged 22 to 25 at 57.1%. Only 31.6% of respondents aged 55 and above would accept LGBT family members.

“The elderly generation’s knowledge about gender and sexual identity is lagging behind those possessed by the younger generation, who now understands the concept of non-binary,” Dede said.

“This is why I fear that the issue could divide the nation in the future, as people will be split into two, those who are conservative and those who are progressive.”

Lini Zurlia, advocacy coordinator for LGBT rights group Arus Pelangi, said Jakarta should be “open-minded” in considering LGBT issues and following in the footsteps of neighbours like Singapore and Vietnam.

“Now Indonesia is heading towards criminalising same-sex relationships. Singapore is taking one step forward [towards inclusivity], while Indonesia is taking three steps backwards,” Lini said.

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