Singapore court rejects bid to decriminalise homosexuality


singapore pink dot festival anti-gay law
Photo: Pink Dot SG

Singapore’s High Court has dismissed legal challenges against an archaic law criminalising homosexuality, meaning gay sex remains a crime in the country.

Prosecutions are rare, but the British colonial-era Section 377A defines consensual sex between men as “acts of gross indecency” punishable by up to two years in prison. The law doesn’t apply to women. However advocates say it creates a culture of homophobia and discrimination in Singapore.

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In 2014, the country’s Court of Appeal declined to repeal the Section 377A. But then in 2018, India’s Supreme Court struck down a very similar law banning gay sex in India.

Following that ruling and as levels of LGBTIQ acceptance rise in Singapore, lawyers and activists began a new legal challenge.

Three separate challenges against Section 377A were launched in 2019 by three local activists, including a co-founder of Singapore’s annual Pink Dot pride festival, Dr Roy Tan.

Dr Tan argued the law violates Article 9 of Singapore’s Constitution. That provision states no person shall face deprivation of life or personal liberty.

He also argued Section 377A is inconsistent with Article 12, stating all people get equal protection before the law.

But on Monday the High Court doubled down on previous rulings, dismissing the appeals and upholding Section 377A.

Justice See Kee Oon argued the law “serves the purpose of safeguarding public morality by showing societal moral disapproval of male homosexual acts”.

Oon defended the fact that it was not actively enforced, saying that was a separate issue to its constitutionality.

Singapore court ruling ‘reaffirms gay Singaporeans are criminals’

UK human rights group Human Dignity Trust said the High Court decision was “extremely disappointing”.

The Trust’s director Téa Braun said keeping the law effectively declares all gay men in Singapore “unapprehended criminals”.

“The plaintiffs and the wider LGBT community in Singapore [had] great hopes that new evidence presented to the Court would make it clear that these draconian laws cannot withstand proper constitutional scrutiny.

“The ruling will also echo harmfully around Asia. [Similar laws criminalise] millions of people simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

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Last May, Taiwan legalised same-sex marriage in a historic first for Asia.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.