Singapore’s High Court Upholds Gay Sex Ban

Justice See Kee Oon said it was necessary to protect "public morality by showing societal moral disapproval of male homosexual acts."

Singapore’s High Court has ruled against a challenge to the country’s law criminalizing gay sex, which punishes the act with up to two years in prison.

Justice See Kee Oon rejected arguments, brought by three men, Johnson Ong Ming, Roy Tan Seng Kee, and Bryan Choong Chee Hoong, against Section 377A of the penal code, which not only punishes men who have sex with other men, but also anyone who aids in, or attempts to participate in, such an act. The rarely enforced law is a holdover from the colonial-era.

The three plaintiffs were motivated in part by a 2018 ruling in India overturning a similar law.

Justice See argued the law “serves the purpose of safeguarding public morality by showing societal moral disapproval of male homosexual acts,” and defended the fact that it was not being enforced, saying that was separate from the issue of its constitutionality, CNA reports.

According to a poll of more than 4,000 people published in May of last year, by the Singapore think-tank the Institute of Policy Study, opposition to gay marriage had fallen to 60%, down from 74% in 2013. A survey conducted by Ipsos in 2018 found 55% of the 750 Singaporeans polled believed the gay sex ban should remain in place.

Singapore Pink Dot
Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images
Participants pose for a photo during the ’Night Pink Dot’ event arrange to increase awareness and understanding of the LGBTQ community in Singapore at Hong Lim Park on June 30, 2012.

Choong’s lawyers, led by Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal, argued using recently declassified documents showing the law was put in place in 1938 to address “rampant male prostitution,” but Justice See said it was not only directed at sex workers, but rather meant to “enable enforcement and prosecution of all forms of gross indecency between males.”

Ong’s legal team argued against the law by noting that it is not possible to change one’s sexual orientation, but the court found “there was no comprehensive scientific consensus that a person’s sexual orientation was biologically determined such that it is immutable,” and asserted such a determination was not the responsibility of the court.

Attorney M Ravi, representing Tan, said he and his colleagues are studying the decision to determine if they can appeal. Meanwhile, Ong intends to appeal the decision, according to his lawyer, Suang Wijaya.

Choong said in a statement that he is “of course disappointed,” but is looking ahead, adding he will “be studying this judgment closely with [his] lawyers.”

“Singapore’s 377A law continues to inflict harm on LGBTQ Singaporeans every day that it remains in force,” Ong told GLAAD in a statement. “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.”

“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,” said Ross Murray of GLAAD. “The plaintiffs, like all LGBTQ Singaporeans, are patriotic citizens, fighting to make their country fairer and safer for all people within its borders.”

Singapore is one of more than 70 countries with laws on the books criminalizing gay sex.

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