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Court challenges to 377A scheduled for November, even as amendments to Religious Harmony Act provide better protection for LGBTQ

The amendment to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act provides that action may be taken against any religious group, or members of a religious group, that attacks anyone, including the LGBTQ community, on religious grounds

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Singapore— Sayoni, an organization that aims to empower queer women in Asia, has hailed the amendments to Singapore’s Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, which provides for better protection for the LGBTQ community and other vulnerable groups in the country.

The group noted that this is indeed a milestone for the LGBTQ community, as this is the first time that a Singaporean law “explicitly extends protections to cover sexual orientation.”

On Wednesday, Sayoni took a victory lap of sorts on its Facebook page, writing,

“We are thrilled that our efforts, including the support of our allies, paid off!

In the amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, the new provisions will protect vulnerable groups in Singapore, including the LGBTQ community, as it will be an offense to knowingly urge violence, based on religious grounds, against a target group or person.

The Explanatory Statement unambiguously notes that target groups includes persons “who share a similar sexual orientation”. This is, to our knowledge, the first time a law in Singapore explicitly extends protections to cover sexual orientation. ??️‍?

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Sayoni highlighted amendments to Section 17 of the act.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam explained the key changes to the Act, noting that action may be taken against any religious group, or members of a religious group, attacks anyone, including the LGBTQ community, on religious grounds.

LGBT rights group Pink Dot shared Sayoni’s post, writing, “We are grateful for the work that Sayoni and allies have put in! This is the first time the law specifically extends protections to LGBTQ folks!”

On the heels of these amendments comes the news that three separate court cases that challenge how constitutional Section 377A of the Penal Code is will have hearings next month. This section deems sexual activity (“gross indecency” between males as a criminal act, and could be punishable by a jail term of as much as two years.

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The Straits Times ST) reports that one challenge was filed by Roy Tan, an LGBTQ rights activist in September. Dr Tan’s lawyer M Ravi was at a pre-trial conference on October 8, Tuesday. His hearings are set for November 13, 15, 18, 20, 21 and 22.

Dr Tan, who released a statement to the media, said, “The court may ask questions directed at the lawyers of the other cases while they are all in the courtroom at the same time.”

He also said that he looked forward with expectancy that Section 377A would be finally repealed.

The other two challenges were filed in 2018, one by disc jockey Johnson Ong Ming (aka DJ Big Kid) and Bryan Choong, the former executive director of Oogachaga , at LGBTQ non-profit organisation.

The Attorney-General is the defendant listed in the challenges./ TISG

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Read related: Catholic Church in Singapore calls for acceptance of LGBTQ community and expresses support for Pink Dot

Catholic Church in Singapore calls for acceptance of LGBTQ community and expresses support for Pink Dot

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