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Singapore high court upholds criminalization of homosexuality

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Singapore high court upholds criminalization of homosexuality

The Singapore supreme court has upheld the criminalization of homosexuality based on the 1938 anti-gay colonial law when the country was still under British rule.

LGBT rights activists had challenged the law, Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes consensual sex between men.

The penalty under the law is up to two years in prison.

Singapore law challenged in court

Singaporean gay rights activists had challenged the law after India’s supreme court had decriminalized being gay in 2018.

The challenge was pushed by Johnson Ong Ming, a 43-year-old DJ; 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.

The group was inspired by the increasing public approval for the LGBT community in Singapore.

In reaction to the ruling, the LGBT group Pink Dot SG said: “The Court’s ruling effectively upholds, entrenches and continues the discrimination of a minority group.”

“This undermines Singapore’s values of community, respect for the individual, and the very fabric of our multicultural and diverse nation,” the group 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,” said Téa Braun, director of the Human Dignity Trust (HDT).

The road to equality in Singapore

Prior to this challenge, the Singapore Court of Appeal in October 2014 had declined to remove the anti-gay law fro the statute books.

The court said reforming Section 377A should come via legislation from Parliament.

In reference to the 2014 ruling, Justice See Kee Oon said in this decision: “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.”

Justice See dismissed the arguments against 337A, saying the Singaporean supreme court had reached the same conclusion of the Court of Appeal.

The justice said the ban does not violate the constitution and “serves the purpose of safeguarding public morality by showing societal moral disapproval of male homosexual acts.”

High court: Sexual orientation a ‘scientific issue’

The lawyers of the activists had argued that 377A criminalizes gay men on the basis of their identity.

However, Justice See said there was “there was no comprehensive scientific consensus that a person’s sexual orientation was biologically determined such that it is immutable.”

“Any controversy is best addressed by the relevant scientific community itself. Ultimately, the issue is an extra-legal one that does not come under the proper purview of the courts,” the justice said.

He also said 377A criminalizes homosexual acts and not the person’s sexual orientation or identity in itself.

“Hence, sexual orientation per se, or whether the male person in question identifies himself as bisexual, heterosexual or homosexual, is completely irrelevant,” he said.

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