What may yet be a giant step backwards for GLBT rights in our region appears to have hit a stumbling block.
Earlier this month, lawmakers in Indonesia’s autonomous region of Aceh voted to implement new sharia-based morality laws that punish adultery with death by stoning, and male and female homosexuality with 100 lashes or eight years in prison or a fine of a solid kilo of gold.
Unlike Islamic laws in neighbouring Malaysia, these laws would be applied equally to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, creating enormous dangers for foreigners in the region as well as Aceh’s ethnic Chinese Christian minority. Sharia laws in Aceh already outlaw the sale and consumption of alcohol, gambling, and speaking to someone of the opposite sex who is not a spouse or relative.
Acehnese lawmakers voted unanimously for the changes just weeks before they were to be replaced by a more moderate governing coalition, but Aceh’s governor, Irwandi Yusuf, claimed he was powerless to stop the law even though he personally opposed it.
However, now a spokesperson from the governor’s office says the law will not be signed, while Indonesia’s Home Minister, Mardiyanto, announced his federal Government will appeal the laws to the Indonesian Supreme Court because of their potential to scare off foreign investors.
Irwandi’s objections appear to lie solely with the death penalty aspects of the law.  He may not block the homophobic parts of the code from being enacted, so the best hope is in the Supreme Court challenge.
But Indonesia’s federal Government has been letting the side down as well. Despite homosexuality remaining legal under Indonesia’s national code, Islamic parties have been trying to ban it locally for years under ‘anti-prostitution’ and ‘anti-pornography’ laws. Typically this has been done by classing gay men as ‘pornographic’ or as prostitutes by definition, giving the green light for local morality police to crack down on them.
Until 2008, the Government had largely resisted such moves. However, a year ago President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, signed into law a national ‘anti-pornography’ law criminalising anything deemed to violate public morality.
The potential to target gays and transgender people is obvious, but so vaguely worded is the law that even folk dances and traditional dress such as Papuan penis gourds could come under its sway. Last month Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission found in it a massive potential to slash women’s freedom.
Opposing the law is a rainbow coalition of women’s groups and indigenous peoples, and moderate Muslims, Christians and Hindus — and they look set to win major concessions. We can only hope Indonesia’s GLBTs don’t get thrown under the bus in the process.

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