Indonesia’s sex laws are a ‘nail in the coffin’ for LGBT rights

Legislation banning sex outside marriage in Indonesia represents a major new threat to the rights of the LGBTQ community in the conservative country.

Same-sex marriages are not recognized in the country.

“It’s another nail in the coffin right now. A big nail,” said Didi Otomo, an activist with LGBTQ rights group GAYa NUSANTARA. France Press agency.

Indonesia’s sex laws

Once the legislation passed by Parliament on Tuesday is enacted, sex outside marriage will be punishable by a year in prison, while unmarried couples living together could face up to six months in prison.

Campaigners say the reforms make it dangerous for same-sex couples to live together openly in a country where they already face widespread discrimination and anti-LGBT regulations.

Before the new criminal code, it was already bad. People can be searched even in their own homes. “Although it wasn’t systematic, it could happen,” Otomo said.

It’s not illegal, but it’s an inherent risk.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country in terms of population, and its constitution recognizes six religions.

Homosexuality is not illegal in the Southeast Asian country – except in the police and army and in the Islamic law-abiding province of Aceh – but rights groups say the legislative changes pose an inherent risk to LGBT people.

“Many same-sex couples live together under the radar, as same-sex marriage is not allowed here,” said Robby Nasuchen, a 30-year-old freelancer who lives with his partner in Bali.

“With the new law, this means that another right has been taken away from society.”

Kay Mata, a musician and activist, said LGBTQ communities are “bracing for the impact and backlash” of homophobia from the legislation, which stands “against our right to exist.”

The amendments still need to be approved by President Joko Widodo before they can take effect.

live in fear

Albert Aris of Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights defended the amendments before the vote and said they would protect the country’s marriage institutions.

He said extramarital sex can only be reported by a spouse, parents or children, which greatly limits the scope of the amendment.

But Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch said LGBT people “live in fear” in a society that is becoming “more and more conservative”.

“If they are reported by a loved one, their lives can be ruined,” he said. France Press agency.

Existing laws against LGBT people

There are already dozens of national and local regulations affecting LGBT people, and some have been arrested for lewd behavior under anti-pornography laws.

Last month, two Indonesian soldiers were sentenced to seven months in prison for having homosexual sex, which the military considers “improper behaviour”.

At least 15 police and military personnel have been dismissed in recent years for having gay sex, according to Amnesty International in 2020.

Also read: Russia paves the way for tougher ‘gay propaganda’ law

Swipe for sex

Last year in Aceh province, two men were sentenced to nearly 80 lashes each for having sex.

Of course, I feel that this country is not safe for me,” said Gusti Arirang, 29, a musician who identifies as a transvestite.

“I am not pessimistic about the future progress of Indonesia as I am trying to stay strong. But now I have more concerns and I am more cautious.”

Lucy Godot with Marchio Gorbiano and Agnes Anya © AFP

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