Singapore’s High Court has dismissed a legal challenge to end a colonial-era law that criminalises sex between two consenting men, echoing another dismissal that took place in 2014.
Gay and bi men in Singapore will, for the time being, continue to live as “un-apprehended criminals” under Section 377A after the High Court dismissed a challenge to close out a colonial-era law that outlaws “acts of ‘gross indecency’ between men”, a law that has been imposed since the British colonisation of Singapore.
Although prosecutions are rare, any man who commits any act of ‘gross indecency’ with another man can be jailed for up to two years. This also extends to any man who abets, procures or attempts to procure such an act.
Speaking about the decision, Director of the Human Dignity Trust (HDT), Téa Braun said, “In declining to strike out this archaic and discriminatory law, the Court has reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are effectively un-apprehended criminals”.
Although Section 377A only targets gay men, activists in Singapore say that the culture of shame and homophobia it engenders casts a shadow of oppression over the whole lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans LGBT+ community.
The challenges were mounted by Johnson Ong Ming, a 43-year-old disc jockey and producer; 42-year-old Bryan Choong Chee Hoong, the former executive director of LGBT organisation Oogachaga; and Roy Tan Seng Kee, a 61-year-old retired medical doctor.
Against a backdrop of similar unsuccessful legal challenges in Singapore, the ruling today is particularly unwelcome, says HDT.
In October 2014, the Singapore Court of Appeal declined to remove the country’s anti-gay law from the statute books and held that LGBT people would have to wait for reform of Section 377A to come through Parliament.
Following the historic and regionally significant September 2018 Indian Supreme Court ruling that decriminalised consensual same-sex sexual activity, and increasing levels of acceptance of LGBT people amongst Singaporeans, lawyers and activists were motivated to mount a fresh challenge to the discriminatory law.
“The ruling will also echo harmfully around Asia”
“This decision will be extremely disappointing for the plaintiffs and the wider LGBT community in Singapore, who 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, where millions of people are criminalised simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” added Braun.