Singapore’s High Court has dismissed three fresh constitutional challenges to overturn the nation’s ban on homosexuality.

Under Section 377A of the British colonial-era, the “gross indecency” of gay sex, public or private, is punishable with up to two years in prison.

The people who spearheaded this latest attempt to overturn the law – a DJ, a retired doctor, and an LGBTQI rights advocate – challenged the ban on male homosexuality as a violation of Singapore’s Constitution that protects equal rights.

However, while this 82-year-old law is rarely enforced and LGBTQI events take place in Singapore, Judge See Kee Oon who oversaw the case remained unconvinced.

On Monday, Justice See Kee Oon rejected the arguments from the plaintiffs, 43-year-old Johnson Ong Ming, 61-year-old Roy Tan Seng Kee, and 42-year-old Bryan Choong Chee Hoong, who challenged that homosexuality is a natural aspect of gay people.

The plaintiffs also argued that the law was “redundant” because it was rarely enforced.

“Legislation remains important in reflecting public sentiment and beliefs,” wrote Judge See Kee Oon in the court’s summary of the case.

“Legislation remains important in reflecting public sentiment and beliefs,”

Judge See Kee Oon also added that while Section 377A was rarely enforced against consensual gay sex in private, these inconsistencies did not make the law redundant.

Singapore has a history of attempted repeals of Section 377A after the Singapore Court of Appeal also refused to remove the nation’s anti-gay law from the statute books in October 2014.

While the Court of Appeal said LGBTQI people would have to wait for Parliament to make the repeal in 2014, politicians remain unwilling to make the change despite Singapore’s growing modern culture.

However, others are quick to point out that despite a booming economy and growing social awareness, Singapore itself remain conservative at heart – especially given its neighbouring relations with Indonesia and Malaysia.

Hope isn’t totally lost though, as Singapore’s High Court is simply the lower part of its Supreme Court – the upper-division being the Court of Appeal.

As a result, lawyers can now take this case back to the Court of Appeal.

A former participant of OutRight Action International’s annual Advocacy Week and the Lawyer who represented plaintiff Bryan Choong, Remy Choo, hinted in a statement that the fight wasn’t over yet.

“Victory isn’t ours today, but I’m confident that one day it will be. One of my favourite quotes, from a book from my childhood – Winnie the Pooh -, is ‘Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday’. For now, we press on,” he said.

Bryan Choong said that despite being disappointed by the ruling: “my eyes are firmly on the road ahead.”

The rejected challenges still come as a blow for Singapore’s LGBTQI community who were inspired by its distant neighbours – including India’s decision to overturn British colonial-era legislation in 2018 which criminalised gay sex.

Furthermore, Taiwan took the unprecedented step last year to legalise same-sex marriage, making the island the first Asian Territory to do so.

Executive Director of OutRight Action International, Jessica Stern, said in a release that despite a growing acceptance towards LGBTQI people in Asia, its disappointing to see Singapore continuing to stand on the wrong side of history.

“It is incredibly disappointing to see the High Court of Singapore uphold this colonial-era law. Even while lying dormant, such laws send a strong message – that gay and bisexual men are not only second class citizens but also criminals, purely for who they love,” she said.

“Today, that message was amplified, legitimising societal hate, discrimination, and exclusion of LGBTIQ people in Singapore.”

 

 

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