Activists decry Singapore court's refusal to repeal law on gay sex | South China Morning Post
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  • Feb 1, 2015
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Activists decry Singapore court's refusal to repeal law on gay sex

Singapore court rejects petition to overturn archaic rule criminalising homosexual acts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 2:26am
 

Rights activists reacted with indignation yesterday after Singapore's High Court rejected a petition to repeal an archaic law criminalising sex between men.

In a ruling issued on Tuesday, the court said it was up to parliament to repeal a provision in the penal code known as Section 377A, whose constitutionality has been questioned.

"The issue in the present case no doubt is challenging and important, but it is not one which, in my view, justifies heavy-handed judicial intervention ahead of democratic change," judge Quentin Loh said in his verdict on a case brought by a gay couple.

"To my mind, defining moral issues need time to evolve and are best left to the legislature to resolve."

To my mind, defining moral issues need time to evolve and are best left to the legislature to resolve

The law dates back to British colonial rule in Singapore and carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for homosexual acts.

While the provision has not been enforced actively by Singapore authorities against men who engage in consensual sex in private, it has become a lightning rod for activists pushing for social reform in the affluent nation.

Two partners who launched the petition - graphic designers Gary Lim, 44, and Kenneth Chee, 37 - now have the option to take the case to the Court of Appeal, the highest judicial body.

A second petition questioning the constitutionality of the provision is still pending before the same court, but activists are not optimistic. "Once again, modern Singapore falls down when it comes to basic rights. There is no place for this law in a modern thriving country like Singapore," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.

He called the law a "remnant of Victorian era colonialism".

"Rather than gazing pensively at the role of the judiciary in defining moral issues, the judge should have focused on the central issue of whether Section 377A is discriminatory or not, instead of kicking it back to parliament," he said.

Jean Chong, co-founder of lesbian activist group Sayoni, said she was "disappointed and outraged" by the court's decision. "377A doesn't just criminalise gay men. It justifies a wide range of abusive behaviours and institutionalises discrimination against LGBT people.

"It sends the wrong signal to the world, that Singapore is a backward and regressive state," she said, using the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The number of Singaporeans supporting gay rights is growing. Last year, organisers said some 15,000 people attended an annual event called Pink Dot.

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