Singapore high court upholds law criminalising gay sex

Section 377A, a colonial era-law banning gay sex, will remain on the books in Singapore according to a recent high court ruling.

singapore-high-court-upholds-law-criminalising-gay-sex

The high court in Singapore has upheld a law criminalising gay sex and dismissed three appeals arguing that the law was unconstitutional.

Prosecutions under the colonial era law, 377A, are rare, but activists have been trying to overturn it for years now, with a previous failed attempt occurring in 2014.

Under section 377A, men who have consensual sex together can be punished by up to two years in prison. The law does not apply to consensual sex between women.

When India repealed a similar law in 2018, there was hope the city-state could do the same. One of the men who appealed, Johnson Ong (aka DJ Big Kid), cited India’s ruling as inspiration.

The 43 year-old attempted to overturn the law along with Roy Tan Seng Kee, a 61 year-old retired doctor, and 42 year-old Bryan Choong Chee Hoong, the former executive director of LGBT+ organisation Oogachaga.

“I am of course disappointed, but my eye is firmly on the road ahead,” Choong told Reuters. “I’ll be studying this judgment closely with my lawyers.” Choong plans on appealing the decision.

In a statement made by Téa Braun of the London-based rights group, Human Dignity Trust, she said, “In declining to strike out this archaic and discriminatory law, the court has reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are effectively unapprehended criminals.”

“The ruling will also echo harmfully around Asia, where millions of people are criminalised simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” she added.

Section 377A was a British law written in the 1860’s which they implemented in their colonies. The section was absorbed unchanged into the Singapore penal code.

However, the original version of section 377 criminalised any sexual act that went “against the order of nature”. This was interpreted quite broadly, and lead to oral sex between partners of any gender becoming an offence.

This law was repealed in 2007 and replaced by a ban on sex with dead bodies. Section 377A was added back in 1938 and criminalised all non-penetrative sexual acts between men, defining them as “gross indecency”.

Despite this law criminalising gay sex, a Pride event named Pink Dot has taken place annually in Singapore since 2009. Last year, attendees came together to form the words of “Repeal 377A”.

Attitudes towards LGBT+ rights have also been softening, with Li Huanwu, the grandson of Singapore’s “founding father” Lee Kuan Yew, coming out in 2018. However, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that society in Singapore “is not that liberal on these matters”.

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