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Singapore high court dismisses challenges to sodomy law

Advocacy groups expressed disappointment over decision

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Singapore, gay news, Washington Blade
(Public domain photo)

Singapore’s highest court on Monday upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss three challenges to a law that criminalizes sexual relations between men.

While delivering the judgment, given by a bench of five judges, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon of the Singapore Court of Appeal said that the appeals are not about “whether (Section) 377A (of the penal code) should be retained or repealed, that being a matter beyond our remit.”

“Nor are they about the moral worth of homosexual individuals,” said Menon. “In the words of our prime minister, Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, homosexual individuals are ‘part of our society’ and ‘our kith and kin.'”

The appeal court went ahead and said the appeals are also “not about the fundamental nature of sexual orientation, whether immutable or not, which is an extra-legal question well beyond the purview of the courts.”

The court also suggested that political resolution of the issue is more appropriate than litigating it. The chief justice said that the advantage of the political process is its ability to accommodate divergent interests and opinions, while litigation is “not a consultative or participatory process.”

“This is so for good reason because litigation is a zero-sum, adversarial process with win-lose outcomes,” said Menon. “The political process, in contrast, seeks to mediate — it strives for compromises and consensus in which no one side has to lose all.”

The chief justice also said that it is “unnecessary” for the court to address a constitutional issue.

“They do not face any real and credible threat of prosecution under 377A at this time,” said Menon while delivering the judgment. “Therefore, (they) do not have the standing to pursue their constitutional challenges to that provision.”

“We, as organizations advocating for LGBTQ+ equality in Singapore, are disappointed with the Court of Appeal’s landmark ruling on Section 377A, which comes as a setback for all who were hoping for a resounding conclusion to this decades-long fight for equality,” said Ready4Repeal, a Singapore-based LGBTQ rights group, in a press release. “Despite recognizing the current situation as deeply unsatisfactory for the LGBTQ+ community, the Court of Appeal has still decided to retain the law, albeit with legal assurances on its unenforceability.”

Last year, three men, DJ Johnson Ong Ming, retired general practitioner Roy Tan Seng Kee, and Bryan Choong Chee Hoong, the former executive director of Oogachaga, an LGBTQ non-profit organization, decided to appeal against a Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss their cases against Section 377A.

“While this is a small step in the right direction, this simply does not go far enough to provide real protection to the LGBTQ+ community, who continue to be impacted by the cascading effects of Section 377A,” said Ready4Repeal. “The judges themselves acknowledged that even with the assurance of unenforceability, homosexual men will still be left open to police investigations as if a crime had been committed.”

Ready4Repeal started a petition in 2018 to pressurize the Singaporean government on repealing the colonial-era law. The petition has received 51,047 online signatures.

Section 377A is a highly debated law in Singapore that prohibits sexual relationships between two men. According to the law, any man in public or private who commits an act of gross indecency with another male shall be punished with to years in prison.

Last year, Home Minister Affairs K Shanmugam said that everyone in Singapore will be protected regardless of community and social, religious, or sexual beliefs. He also said that the government’s position is clear. He also said that amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act make it an offense to urge violence on the grounds of religion or religious belief against any person or group.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong last year reiterated that different sections of the society have valid concerns, and it needs to be addressed.

“Tribalism is inherently exclusionary, and it’s based on mutual hate: ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ ‘friend’ vs ‘foe,'” said Wong. “Once this sort of tribal identity takes root, it becomes difficult to achieve any compromise. Because when we anchor our politics on identity, any compromise seems like dishonor.”

Ankush Kumar (Mohit) is a freelance reporter, who has covered many stories for Washington Blade and Los Angeles Blade from Iran, India, and Singapore. Recently covered story for The Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion.

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Asia

Indonesia lawmakers criminalize sex outside of marriage

Country’s revised Criminal Code will take effect in three years

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(Bigstock photo)

Lawmakers in Indonesia on Tuesday approved a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.

The Jakarta Post, an English newspaper in the country’s capital, noted the marriage provision is part of a revised Criminal Code that would, among other things, also make it illegal to insult the president. The Jakarta Post said anyone, including foreigners, who have sex outside of marriage could face up to a year in jail.

The new Criminal Code — which LGBTQ and intersex activists and other human rights groups have criticized — will take place in three years.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.

Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, had been scheduled to visit Indonesia this week. She cancelled her trip after the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s most prominent Islamic group, criticized it.

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Pakistani cinema and television highlights LGBTQ, intersex issues

Government sought to ban ‘Joyland’

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The Pakistani government sought to ban "Joyland" in the country. (Promotional poster for "Joyland")

There are several Pakistani movies and television shows that depict the lives of LGBTQ and intersex people in society.

Though some media outlets have become more inclusive, the representation of queer people on screen is still too rare. Pakistan has seen a rise in the production of LGBTQ and intersex movies and television shows that include dramas, documentaries and web series. Some of them are made in Pakistan, while others are produced abroad. Many of them have been released in Pakistan. The government banned some of them, but others have not only amused audiences but won international awards.

Here is a list of some of them. 

‘Joyland’

“Joyland” is a Pakistani film that made waves at the Cannes Film Festival. 

The film follows the story of a transgender woman named Biba, who is trying to make a living as a dancer in Lahore. She faces many challenges in her life, including discrimination and violence from those who do not accept her gender identity. She nevertheless persists, despite these difficulties, and ultimately finds love and acceptance from unexpected sources. This heartwarming film highlights the struggles and triumphs of the trans community in Pakistan and is sure to resonate with viewers around the world. “Joyland” is a powerful and timely film that highlights the struggles of trans people in Pakistan. It is also a celebration of hope and friendship, and an uplifting story about chasing your dreams against all odds.

In a conservative Pakistani family, the youngest son Haider (Ali Junejo) is expected to produce a baby boy with his wife. However, he joins an erotic dance theater and falls for the troupe’s director, a trans woman. This film tells the story of the sexual revolution in Pakistan and their struggle against traditional gender roles and expectations. 

“Joyland” is the first Pakistani film on the LGBTQ topic that premiered at Cannes Film Festival and received an overwhelming response. It won the prestigious Cannes “Queer Palm” award during its world premiere. The government had tried to ban the film, but it opened in the country last month. 

‘Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan’

In the conservative, Muslim-dominated country of Pakistan, homosexuality is a taboo topic. However, there is a thriving LGBTQ and intersex community in Pakistan that is forced to live in secrecy. The documentary “Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan” shines a light on this hidden community. 

It follows the lives of several LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis, who bravely share their stories. The documentary was released in 2015 in Pakistan and in the U.K. by director Faizan Fiaz. It was the first kind of movie on the “LGBTQ” topic. The film was screened at film festivals in Barcelona, Spain, and in the U.S. The word “poshida” means “hidden” in Urdu. The film is particularly timely given the current global discussion around LGBTQ and intersex rights. It examines the legacy of colonialism, class structures and the impact of the U.S. government’s gay rights advocacy in Pakistan. 

The documentary is about a serial killer from Lahore who kills trans people, women and gay men for entertainment purposes. Human rights abuses of trans men and women are also explored in the documentary. 

‘Churails’

Pakistani cinema has come a long way in recent years, tackling several taboo subjects and exploring new genres and stories. One of the most groundbreaking Pakistani films of recent years is “Churails.”

The film is the first Pakistani queer web series that revolves around four women. It is the first time that a lesbian relationship in any Pakistani film or web series is portrayed.

This film features a trans woman Baby Doll (Zara Khan), lesbian lovers Babli (Sameena Nazir) and Pinky (Bakhtawar Mazhar) and a gay husband. Four women who were students — one was a wedding planner, the third one was convicted of a crime and the fourth woman was a socialite set up a secret detective agency in Karachi. The aim was to launch a detective service for those women who were cheated by their husbands. 

A web series set in Karachi challenges the status quo and subverts the conventional narrative. The critically acclaimed web series has opened up a debate about Pakistan’s patriarchal society. The show doesn’t shy away from tough questions: Veils, deception and secrets. “Churails” is the story of four self-made women who come together to break certain stereotypes and challenge societal hypocrisy. 

“Churails” is the first Pakistani drama web series which was released in 2020 by ZEE5, an Indian on-demand video platform. The web series is directed and produced by Asim Abbasi. The film was not allowed to screen in Pakistani cinema or channels. The movie was only available on ZEE5. however, at the time of releasing the film the state bank of Pakistan ordered all the banks to block Pakistani consumers to purchase subscriptions to ZEE5. 

“Churails” won the “OTT Platform Show of the Year” at the British Asian Media Awards in February 2021. “Churails” is a feminist film in every sense of the word. 

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Japanese court rules same-sex marriage ban is constitutional

Ruling said lack of legal protections violate couples’ human rights

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A district court in the Tokyo Prefecture ruled on Wednesday that Japan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is legal. The court added that the absence of a legal system to protect same-sex families infringed upon their human rights.

In a statement to Reuters, Nobuhito Sawasaki, an attorney for the plaintiffs told the wire service, “This is actually a fairly positive ruling,” said Sawasaki who added, “While marriage remains between a man and a woman, and the ruling supported that, it also said that the current situation with no legal protections for same-sex families is not good, and suggested something must be done about it.”

This past June in Osaka Prefecture, the district court in that jurisdiction said that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional. The case had been filed by three same-sex couples — two male, one female — and is only the second legal challenge to have been filed in Japan. 

In March 2021, the Sapporo District Court issued its ruling the country’s constitution does not ban same-sex couples from legally marrying and ensures them a right to marry. Under current Japanese law, same-sex couples are banned from legally marrying, which means partners cannot inherit each other’s assets upon death and have no parental rights over the other’s child.

In the Sapporo case, Nikkei Asia reported three couples — also two male and one female — tried to register their marriages in 2019, but local officials turned them away.

The couples sued and the court ruled the government’s actions violated two provisions of the Japanese Constitution: Article 14 that ensures the right to equal treatment and Article 24, which does not expressly deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the issue needs to be carefully considered, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has disclosed no plans to review the matter or propose legislation, though some senior party members favor reform.

An opinion poll by the Tokyo Prefecture late last year found some 70 percent of people were in favor of same-sex marriage.

Reuters reported that the Tokyo ruling promises to be influential as the capital has an outsized influence on the rest of Japan.

Gon Matsunaka, head of the activist group Marriage for All Japan told Reuters “This is hard to accept. Both heterosexual and same-sex couples should be able to benefit equally from the system of marriage, as everyone is equal under the law,” he said and added. “It (the ruling) clearly said that is not possible.” Yet the recognition that same-sex families lacked legal protections was “a big step” he noted.

Reuters reported that two more cases are pending in Japan, and activists and lawyers hope an accumulation of judicial decisions supporting same-sex marriage will eventually push lawmakers to change the system, even if this is unlikely soon.

“I hope there will be legislative debate about this,” said plaintiff Shizuka Oe. “We will keep making efforts.”

Tokyo court ruling upholds ban on same-sex marriage:

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