Singapore court hears new challenges to gay sex ban

Photo: Pink Dot SG
Photo: Pink Dot SG

New challenges to a law banning gay sex were put before a Singapore court on Wednesday, the latest bid to overturn the statute and score another victory for LGBT rights in Asia.

Inherited from the British colonial era, the law is rarely enforced but campaigners say it nevertheless jars with the affluent city-state’s increasingly modern and vibrant culture.

Still, opponents argue that Singapore remains at heart conservative and is not ready for change while officials also believe most would not be in favor of repealing the legislation.

A first attempt to overturn it was rejected in 2014 but now three people — a retired doctor, a DJ, and an LGBT rights advocate — have lodged fresh challenges aiming to prove the law is unconstitutional.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs confirmed the civil suits had started behind closed doors at the High Court on Wednesday.

The three challenges will be heard one after another until Nov. 22, and the judge will make a ruling at a later date.

“I think we have strong points and we are hopeful,” Eugene Thuraisingam, a lawyer for DJ Johnson Ong, told AFP.

The retired doctor challenging the statute, 61-year-old Roy Tan, has criticized the “anachronistic law” — Section 377A of the penal code — for adversely affecting the lives of gay men.

“By institutionalizing discrimination, it alienates them from having a sense of belonging and purposeful place in our society, and prevents them from taking pride in Singapore’s achievements,” he said in a statement when he announced his intention to challenge the law.

If the legislation is overturned, it will mark another step forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the region.

Last year, India’s Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex by overturning legislation from its own period under British rule — a decision that spurred campaigners in Singapore to renew their efforts to challenge Section 377A.

And in Taiwan, lawmakers took the unprecedented decision in May to legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first place in Asia to do so. Over 2,000 couples have since wed on the island.

Singapore’s ban, first introduced in 1938 by British colonial administrators, carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for homosexual acts.

 

Related:

‘Repeal 377A’: This year’s Pink Dot takes firm stand against legal discrimination

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