(Reuters) – Singapore’s high court today upheld a law that criminalises sex between men, dismissing three appeals that argued it was unconstitutional, although prosecutions under the law are rare.
The ruling follows challenges last year to the colonial-era law, a thorny issue in the socially conservative city-state, where repeal efforts failed in 2014, though activists were emboldened after India scrapped similar legislation in 2018.
“I am of course disappointed, but my eye is firmly on the road ahead,” said Bryan Choong, one of three men who challenged the law.
“I’ll be studying this judgment closely with my lawyers.”
The Attorney-General’s Chambers did not immediately comment.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has previously said that society in Singapore “is not that liberal on these matters”.
However, after the Indian decision, a prominent Singapore diplomat urged challenges to the city-state’s law, while Law Minister K. Shanmugam said a “growing minority” wanted it repealed, and that laws should keep pace with societal change.
Polls have also suggested changing attitudes towards homosexuals, and a perceived softening in tone from some establishment figures.
The applicants in Monday’s cases had argued that Section 377A, which provides for jail terms of up to two years for a man found to have committed an act of ‘gross indecency’ with another man, was unconstitutional. The law does not apply to lesbians.
Rights groups had said Singapore’s decision had wider implications for Asia, where social attitudes are conservative.
“In declining to strike out this archaic and discriminatory law, the court has reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are effectively unapprehended criminals,” Téa Braun, director of the London-based rights group, Human Dignity Trust, said in a statement.
There have been concerns around growing intolerance toward the LGBT community in Muslim-majority neighbours like Malaysia and Indonesia.
-John Geddie, Fathin Ungku and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore