SINGAPORE (AP) _ Thousands of gay rights activists gathered in downtown Singapore on Saturday for an annual rally that came under unprecedented criticism from religious conservatives, with one influential Christian pastor calling on the government to ban the event.
Previous Pink Dot rallies have been held without much opposition. But as they grew in numbers from less than 3,000 people when the first event was held in 2009 to more than 20,000 last year, so did their disapproval. Organizers said a record 26,000 people showed up Saturday.
On paper, gay sex remains a criminal offense in the wealthy, multi-cultural city-state of 5.4 million, although authorities rarely enforce the British colonial-era legislation, known as Section 377A.
Lawrence Khong, founder and pastor of the 10,000-member Faith Community Baptist Church, has been the most vocal critic of homosexuality and the Pink Dot rally.
In a statement, he said he could not understand why authorities were allowing the rally to take place.
``I find it even more disconcerting that the event is being used as a platform of public persuasion to push their alternative lifestyle,'' he said. ``I would like to see our government leaders draw a clear line on where they now stand with regard to this moral issue.''
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said he believed Singaporean society should be one ``where you don't go pushing your own beliefs and preferences, but at the same time everyone else keeps the balance in society and avoids creating conflict.''
Former lawmaker Siew Kum Hong, who tried to get Parliament to repeal Section 377A unsuccessfully, said he believed that the legislation will be overturned eventually.
``I've always maintained that the government's position is untenable. When presented with a chance to repeal 377A, it decided to avoid making a principled decision and instead opted to kick the can down the road.''
Other opposition came from an Islamic teacher who encouraged Muslims to wear white Saturday on the eve of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which was interpreted as a response to a Pink Dot video showing a Singaporean Muslim declaring his support for the LGBT community.
The LGBT supporters wore pink in the rally, whose highlights include large crowds standing together with pink torchlights at night, creating a spectacular aerial view.