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No discrimination against LGBTQ community at work, in housing and education here: Ong Ye Kung

SINGAPORE – As a heated debate among the public continues over a law here that criminalises sex between men, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Friday (Sept 14) that there is no discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community "at work, housing (and) education" in Singapore.

No discrimination against LGBTQ community at work, in housing and education here: Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung was asked at a dialogue during the annual Singapore Summit on how the country can be more inclusive, including towards people of different sexual orientations.

SINGAPORE – As a heated debate among the public continues over a law here that criminalises sex between men, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Friday (Sept 14) that there is no discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community "at work, housing (and) education" in Singapore.

Mr Ong was attending the annual Singapore Summit, a conference for business and thought leaders to discuss business and global affairs, and his comments came after he was asked at a dialogue on how the country can be more inclusive, including towards people of different sexual orientations.

Saying that it is in Singapore’s DNA to be inclusive, he added: "The fact is they (the LGBTQ community) live in Singapore peacefully, no discrimination at work, housing (and) education. They go about their lives.

“However, on the issue of LGBTQ, it is also an issue of social mores and societal values.”

Since India’s Supreme Court struck down the country’s law banning gay sex on Sept 6, the LGBTQ community here has called on the Singapore Government to follow suit, and to repeal section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men.

Prominent Singaporean figures have waded into the debate, and petitions from two camps that are for and against the law have garnered tens of thousands of signatures. One Singaporean, disc jockey Johnson Ong, on Monday filed a fresh legal challenge against Section 377A.

Mr Ong reiterated Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s recent comments that Singapore is deeply split on the issue, and that society has to decide on the direction.

“We might be the largest animal in the jungle, but we are not the jungle. Some things we leave it to society to decide over time,” said Mr Ong.

Since Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s tenure as founding prime minister, the Government has made its position on the subject clear: Section 377A remains in the books because Singapore society is still largely conservative, but the Government does not and will not proactively enforce the law.

COUNCIL OF CHURCHES DOES NOT SUPPORT REPEAL

On Thursday, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) said that it does not support repealing Section 377A, adding that the homosexual lifestyle “is not only harmful for individuals, but also for families and society as a whole”.

Repealing the law would lead a “normalisation and promotion” of such a lifestyle, said the group, which represents about 200 churches. It added that this would lead to “undesirable moral and social consequences, a slippery slope as seen in some countries taking this step”.

Mr Leow Yangfa, executive director of Oogachaga, a non-profit organisation that works with the LGBTQ community, expressed disappointment over NCCS’ comments.

“It is disappointing yet somewhat expected that the NCCS has taken such a strong position against the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore, many of whom also identify themselves as Christians, and/ or belong to loving and accepting Christian families and communities all over Singapore,” he said.

TODAY has reached out to the Catholic Church in Singapore, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Singapore Buddhist Federation, Singapore Taoist Federation, Central Sikh Gurdwara Board and Hindu Endowments Board, but the organisations did not reply to emails seeking comment.

While Muis did not respond to TODAY’s queries, some members of the Muslim community including Mr Zainal Sapari, Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency, have been circulating a Muis statement from June 2014 which stated its position on the issue.

Written by Mr Mohd Murat Aris, who is Muis’ director of religious development, the statement said that Muis does not “agree nor approve the pervasiveness of the LGBT lifestyle, and we cannot agree to the efforts in promoting such a lifestyle”.

Observers and analysts told TODAY that some religious groups may feel that there is no need for them to weigh in on the issue.

Singapore Management University's law professor Eugene Tan said: “Their position is well-known. The Catholic Church is one such group.

"They are likely to be monitoring developments closely. They may also be confident that the status quo will be maintained and so the imperative to make a stand is not so strong."

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser from the National University of Singapore said that not all religious doctrines touch on the subject of homosexuality. Therefore, “it is understandable if they choose to be silent on this subject and let their adherents follow their own moral convictions”, he added.

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