Singapore Judge Says Reasons Needed to End Gay-Sex Ban

Photographer: Pink Dot SG via AP Photo

In this Saturday June 29, 2013 photo released by Pink Dot SG rally organizers, two men kiss at the annual Pink Dot SG rally in support of gay rights in Singapore's Hong Lim Park. Close

In this Saturday June 29, 2013 photo released by Pink Dot SG rally organizers, two men... Read More

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Photographer: Pink Dot SG via AP Photo

In this Saturday June 29, 2013 photo released by Pink Dot SG rally organizers, two men kiss at the annual Pink Dot SG rally in support of gay rights in Singapore's Hong Lim Park.

Singapore’s top court shouldn’t without a legal basis “step into the shoes of parliament” -- which decided in 2007 not to repeal a ban on sex between gay men -- the judge heading a panel deciding on a challenge to the 76-year-old law said.

“What’s the legal criteria?” Andrew Phang asked lawyers for the three men who claim the law violates their rights to equality and to life and personal liberty under the Asian city state’s constitution. “The court can only listen to one voice, the legal voice,” the judge said yesterday.

Deborah Barker, a lawyer for two of the men challenging the law, replied that the provision is based on the arbitrary dislike of a majority, enacted when Singapore was a British colony and based on a nineteenth-century ban. If the government’s arguments that the law is constitutional are correct, then parliament could legislate to prohibit women from driving, she had said in her written arguments.

M. Ravi, a lawyer for the other man trying to overturn the law, known as Section 377A, said its outlawing of “gross indecency” between men is vague and “obviously discriminatory”.

The constitutional challenge would be carefully considered, according to Phang, who said that a decision would be delivered in due course. A 2010 challenge to the constitutionality of Singapore’s death penalty was rejected by the Court of Appeal after about two months. The government subsequently reviewed the mandatory death penalty for certain offenses and judges were allowed more discretion in 2013.

Public Morality

While social values may or may not have shifted since the ban on gay sex was passed during the colonial era, lawmakers should decide if the law is retained or amended, said Aedit Abdullah of the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

The chambers doesn’t have a view on acts between males and are merely reflecting those of the legislature, Aedit told the court yesterday. He said the law was retained by parliament to protect public morality.

“Maybe this is not the right forum to canvass these arguments,” Phang said. “Maybe it’s across the road to parliament.” The court is being asked to venture into policy formulation on an “intensely controversial area” with emotive arguments based on extralegal values, he said.

“The issue before the court is not an emotional one but a constitutional one of” rights to liberty, equality and life, Barker said.

The objective of Section 377A when it was first enacted was probably intended to suppress male prostitution at that time, she said. The law is overly inclusive, covering gay men in today’s context and should be modified, she said.

The cases are Lim Meng Suang v Attorney-General, CA54/2013. Tan Eng Hong v Attorney-General, CA125/2013. Singapore Court of Appeal.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Tan in Singapore at atan17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Douglas Wong at dwong19@bloomberg.net Peter Chapman

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