Metro Weekly

Singapore court maintains ban on gay sex

Three gay men appealed for the law to be overturned, arguing it is unconstitutional

singapore, gay, sex, ban
Singapore’s Supreme Court Building — Photo: Terence Ong / Wiki Commons

A court in Singapore has rejected a legal challenge to the nation’s colonial-era law banning sex between men.

The law, though rarely enforced, penalizes sex between men with up to two years in prison, and is a legal remnant of British rule of the city-state.

Repeal efforts, which previously failed in 2014, were reportedly emboldened after India’s Supreme Court scrapped a similar colonial-era ban on gay sex. 

But Singapore’s High Court dismissed appeals from three gay men — LGBTQ rights advocate Bryan Choong, DJ Johnson Ong Ming, and retired doctor Roy Tan — who argued that the law is unconstitutional, The Guardian reports.

The high court disagreed, saying that Section 377A not being regularly enforced does not “render [the legislation] redundant,” nor does it violate Singapore’s constitution with regards freedom of speech or equality.

“The High Court dismisses all three applications,” Judge See Kee Oon wrote in the court’s summary of the case, adding, “Legislation remains important in reflecting public sentiment and beliefs.”

In a statement released through GLAAD, Johnson Ong said the law “continues to inflict harm on LGBTQ Singaporeans every day that it remains in force.”

“My wish is for the next generation of young LGBTQ to grow up unencumbered by such an oppressive law, and to have the confidence to fully participate and contribute to Singapore society without feeling less than equal,” he said.

Choong said he was disappointed with the ruling, “but my eyes are firmly on the road ahead,” Reuters reports.

Speaking to reporters, a lawyer for one of the men said that he was “very disappointed” with the ruling. M Ravi called the court’s decision “shocking to the conscience” and “so arbitrary,” adding, “It is so discriminatory this legislation.”

In a statement, Ross Murray, senior director of the GLAAD Media Institute, said: “Singapore had an opportunity to lead the world in safeguarding and protecting its LGBTQ citizens, and it’s heartbreaking that they passed on that opportunity. The plaintiffs, like all LGBTQ Singaporeans, are patriotic citizens, fighting to make their country fairer and safer for all people within its borders.”

Téa Braun, director of LGBTQ rights group Human Dignity Trust, said in a statement that “[in] declining to strike out this archaic and discriminatory law, the court has reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are effectively unapprehended criminals.”

Singaporean society is generally regarded as conservative, despite being a wealthy, modern city-state.

A poll conducted after Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage found that 56% of Singaporeans rejected following Taiwan’s example.

A slim majority (51%) also responded negatively when asked how they felt about 300 same-sex couples marrying in Taiwan in the first week after the marriage equality law was passed.

Curiously, there are no laws criminalizing same-sex relations between women in Singapore — Section 377A only applies to sex between men. The country also allows limited military service for gay, bisexual, and lesbian individuals, and allows individuals to change their legal gender.

However, same-sex adoption is illegal, the country has no anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, lesbian women are banned from accessing IVF treatment, and men who have sex with men are banned from donating blood.

Related:

Belize appeals court upholds decision overturning law criminalizing gay sex

Taiwan becomes first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage

India’s Supreme Court decriminalizes gay sex in landmark verdict

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