Last month, Indonesia’s constitutional court rejected a petition that sought to criminalise gay and extramarital sex. King Oey, a board member of Arus Pelangi, an organisation that campaigns for LGBT rights, says the battle will now be fought in parliament
What does the Family Love Alliance, the group that is behind the petition that sought to criminalise gay and extramarital sex, seek to achieve with this kind of petition?
This group has people who pretend to be academics, and some are indeed professors in several universities – for example, the main petitioner. But aside from being academics, many of them also belong to… ultraconservative Muslim associations. They have, of course, also built a vast network of like-minded people all over the country, and their objective is basically to make Indonesia an Islamic country.
What will be the petitioners’ next move given the major setback they have suffered?
That depends, because I think now the battle will be in parliament… There is now an ongoing bill being drafted, which needs to revise the current criminal code. The current criminal code is still based on the colonial law introduced by the Dutch… and one of the stumbling blocks [to revisions] is divergent views of several parliamentary members on whether to include more human rights norms.
What do most people in Indonesia think about this petition?
What I have so far seen is, of course, mixed. You have people who have lauded this decision, saying that this, indeed, is a matter of private life – it should not be interfered with by the state. And others who are more inclined toward conservative views who see it as a step back. But I think they will not leave it at this point. It is difficult to say what they think of this decision, but what I know is that the majority of Indonesians still regard homosexuality as a deviation. Whether that should be criminalised is another matter.
How is life for a gay man or woman in Indonesia?
It is difficult to say it in one sentence… One thing is that crackdowns on gay premises, nightclubs and saunas have been ongoing for many, many years. It is not the first time it happens. What is new is this apparent systematic raid of premises. In the past month we have seen a rise. What is also new is that it is now the police that initiate the crackdown, whereas before it was mostly initiated by hardline groups who then get the assistance of the police to close down certain gay bars.
This article was published in the January edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here.