Gscene Editorial Team March 31, 2020

The High Court of Singapore has dismissed three challenges to its Penal Code which criminalises same-sex relations between men. In doing so, Singapore continues to violate international human rights. Singapore has squandered the opportunity to join a wave of countries embracing decriminalisation of same-sex relations which includes Botswana, Angola, Trinidad and Tobago, and neighbouring India.

Section 377A of the Penal Code is a relic of British Colonial rule, and prescribes imprisonment of up to 2 years. It was being challenged in terms of its constitutionality and redundancy. This law is rarely and arbitrarily applied, and  three separate cases sought to challenge it’s legality, brought by plaintiffs Johnson Ong Ming, Roy Tan Seng Kee, and Bryan Choong Chee Hoong.

All three challenges were dismissed today by Justice See Kee Oon who highlighted that section 377A does not violate the constitution and  “continues to serve its purpose of safeguarding public morality by showing societal moral disapproval of male homosexual acts”. Justice Oon noted, in particular, that is there is inconclusive evidence that homosexuality is biological and immutable, that scientific discussions are not a matter for the court to rule on, adding “identity or status is not an element of the offence” therefore applying equally to homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual men”.

Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, said:

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

Lawyer Remy Choo, a former participant of OutRight Action International’s annual Advocacy Week, who represented plaintiff Bryan Choong, said:

Victory isn’t ours today, but I’m confident that one day it will be. One of my favorite 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.

68 countries around the world, including Singapore, continue to criminalise same-sex relations. The plaintiffs and their lawyers will be exploring options for appeal.