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Gay men take fight to end Singapore’s gay sex ban to highest court

Gay men take fight to end Singapore’s gay sex ban to highest court

  • Gay and bi men remain criminals in Singapore but that could all change soon.
Singapore's Pink Dot demands: Repeal Section 377A.

A crucial court case that could end the criminalization of homosexuality in Singapore is heading to the country’s Court of Appeal.

The southeast Asian country’s High Court refused to strike down the law that makes homosexuality illegal at the end of March.

Three gay men had taken the case to court. And now lawyers have announced that all three men involved in that case will appeal.

Lawyers representing Mr Johnson Ong Ming, a disc jockey and producer, and Dr Roy Tan, an LGBT+ rights activist and retired doctor, have already filed their appeals.

Meanwhile lawyers for the third plaintiff, Mr Bryan Choong, the former executive director of LGBT+ non-profit organisation Oogachaga, said he is planning to file his appeal soon.

The law Section 377A of the Penal Code dates from the colonial era. The British introduced the same law across its empire. Indeed, in many countries it is still called Section 377.

But courts have started to strike down the law as unconstitutional. Countries as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago and India have got rid of their laws. And that gave Singaporean LGBT+ campaigners confidence they could win in the city state.

‘Unconstitutional’

However, back in October 2014, the Singapore Court of Appeal refused to remove the country’s anti-gay law from the statute books. It said LGBT+ people would have to wait for Parliament to repeal Section 377A. However, politicians are unwilling to change it.

In the High Court case the judge, Justice See, issued a 105-page written judgment.

In it, he cited the 2014 case, involving gay couple Lim Meng Suang and Kenneth Chee, as binding. As a more junior court to the Court of Appeal, he couldn’t overrule it.

Justice See said: ‘I am unable to agree that there are cogent reasons for a Singapore court to be able to depart from binding decisions of the highest court in the land.’

However, there is still hope.

Now the case will go back to the Court of Appeal, which is the senior branch of the Supreme Court in Singapore. And it has greater flexibility to rethink and reevaluate fresh arguments.

M Ravi, the lawyer for Roy Tan Seng Kee, said they are appealing ‘against the whole of the decision’.

He pledged after the High Court decision: ‘The journey will not end till Section 377A is declared unconstitutional and abolished.’

The law versus Singapore’s reality

Meanwhile LGBT+ people continue to have an unusual status in Singapore.

Section 377A carries a penalty of two years imprisonment but the authorities rarely use it.

Despite the law, the city has openly gay bars and even saunas. Moreover, Singapore’s Pink Dot celebrations are a huge and very public annual protest against the law.

However, the law hangs over all LGBT+ people. It stops the community advancing other rights. Trans people can change gender in Singapore but there is no same-sex marriage or discrimination protection.

Moreover, many western workers in Singapore’s many big international companies are openly LGBT+. Indeed, some suggest the authorities do not enforce the law is because they fear backlash from multinational companies on which the country depends.

By contrast, fewer native Singaporeans feel safe to be out at work or in their families.

Ready4Repeal, is a group behind a 2018 petition supporting the repeal of Section 377A. It gathered over 44,000 signatures.

It says LGBT+ Singaporeans ‘yearn to be treated as equals in their own country’.