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Indonesia Could Ban Same-Sex Couples from Living Together


LGBTQ+ organizers are calling President Joko Widodo’s proposed law a human rights disaster.

Indonesian lawmakers are considering a bill that could have disastrous implications for LGBTQ+ citizens and tourists, criminalizing same-sex relationships, cohabitation, and even criticizing the president.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo had planned to bring the law forward in the next week, but at the last minute he's implemented a one-month delay in the vote, after widespread international condemnation of the regressive bill.

As written, the bill would replace outdated laws that remain in place from colonial rule, such as those banning criticism of the Dutch royal family. While those regulations are clearly in need of an update, the new bill would also curtailed a number of current freedoms. Namely, it would have banned all sex outside of marriage. Since marriage equality is banned in Indonesia, that would amount to the criminalization of homosexuality.

What's more, it would have imposed penalties for unmarried couples who live together, for criticizing the president, for providing contraceptives, for performing an abortion, and for practicing "black magic," among other acts.

Cohabitation, for example, would be punished with a fine of up to 10 million rupiah, or around $700 U.S. dollars, and up to six months in jail.

Nasir Djamil, a politician representing the Prosperous Justice Party, issued a statement saying, "the state must protect citizens from behavior that is contrary to the supreme precepts of God."

The bill will be renewed for consideration next month, when a new parliament is seated. If ratified, there would be a two-year waiting period before it went into effect.

In addition to being called "disastrous" for human rights, the bill could have a devastating impact on tourism at a time when the country is pushing an initiative to create 10 new destinations to rival Bali.

Bali hosts around 6 million tourists every year, many of them queer. The law would leave those visitors particularly vulnerable to persecution and blackmail. An unscrupulous police officer could demand payment from a couple that couldn't prove that they're married, or face prison time.

This follows a contentions election campaign in which progressive politicians saw increasing pressure from hard-line religious groups. Religious leader Ma'ruf Amin was elected as the country's vice president, and many candidates veered to conservative policies to win over more religious areas of the country.

Human Rights Watch said the proposal would be "disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities, but for all Indonesians."

Indonesians have already experienced an alarming crackdown, targeting queer people over the last few years, with police raids, vigilante mob violence, and hate speech. While homosexuality is only officially banned in one area of the country, widespread stigma lingers and officials have long threatened further violence -- whether legal or not.

Previously, President Widodo spoke out in defense of LGBTQ+ Indonesians. But following the latest election, his allyship seems to have been entirely discarded.

RELATED | Indonesia to Vote on New Law Criminalizing Gay Sex

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Matt Baume