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Singapore may ease gay sex ban

January 7, 2004

Singapore is moving quietly to reform its draconian laws that made it one of the most repressive states in Asia. Among the changes being considered is an easing of laws that prohibit gay sex.

"If we want a more participatory citizenry, the government will have (to) cut the apron strings and leave more matters to the private and people sectors," said deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a speech to the Harvard Club Tuesday night.

Only a year ago things such as chewing gum and women's magazines were banned in the city state, the richest country in Asia. Oral sex remains illegal, whether it is between consenting hetero or homosexuals. All homosexual sex acts are criminal offenses.

"I have no doubt that our society must open up further," said Lee, who is also the finance minister and chairman of the central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

"We will promote a political culture which responds to people's desire for greater participation, in a manner which supports Singapore's growth as a nation."

With an immense conservative Moslem population the government has moved slowly on civil rights. Nevertheless, few are actually charged under the gay sex prohibition, and Singapore is becoming a focal point for gay tourism.

The economically savvy government is anxious to expand its popularity as a gay destination, and many foreign observers say the quest for the pink buck has fueled the government's relaxing of anti-gay laws.

Last year, following a series of articles on gay tourism in Singapore, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said that gays would be allowed to work in the public service.

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