Singapore’s Ban on Gay Male Sex Is Upheld by Top Court

Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee Challenged the Law
Gary Lim, left, and Kenneth Chee. Source: Courtesy Gary Lim via Bloomberg

Three gay men lost their fight to overturn Singapore’s ban on sex between males, as judges at the nation’s highest court ruled that the 76-year-old law is constitutional.

The “intensely controversial” challenge brought by the men is best debated before the city’s parliament, Court of Appeal Justices Andrew Phang, Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li said in their 107-page decision delivered yesterday.

“Whilst we understand the deeply held personal feelings of the appellants, there’s nothing that this court can do to assist them,” the judges wrote in their ruling. “Their remedy lies, if at all, in the legislative sphere.”

The law, known as Section 377A, was retained in 2007 after a two-day debate in parliament where related provisions that made heterosexual oral and anal sex a crime were repealed. Church groups and gay-rights activists have clashed over the ban, which the government says it hasn’t actively enforced since the mid-1990s.

“Only one voice -- and one voice alone -- is relevant,” the judges said. “It is the voice of the law, which represents the voice of objectivity.”

M. Ravi, a lawyer for one of the three men trying to overturn the law, said in a statement the decision legitimized discrimination against gay men.

Gay Marriage

Kenneth Chee and Gary Lim, the couple who challenged the ban, said they are “deeply disappointed” and hope parliament will consider their case.

“We hope that Singaporeans will see this as a minor setback for equality and fairness,” Chee and Lim said.

Battles over gay rights have gained prominence in the past two years. A federal judge in Puerto Rico last week upheld the commonwealth’s ban on same-sex marriage, after gay marriages were legalized in at least 32 U.S. states. India in December overturned a 2009 verdict legalizing consensual gay sex. Russia enacted anti-gay laws, stoking international ire, and New Zealand became the first Asia-Pacific nation to legalize gay marriages.

Singapore’s law, adopted when it was a British colony, was retained by parliament to protect public morality, the Attorney-General’s Chambers had told the court in July. Offenders face mandatory jail terms of as long as two years.

Pink Dot

The city’s police advised attendees at this year’s annual gay-pride rally Pink Dot in June to “keep the peace” and avoid comments on race and religion. The warning followed Muslim and Christian groups calling on their followers to wear white on the day to signify “purity” and to oppose the event.

While Singapore’s multiracial, multicultural, multilingual and multireligious society allows “real and practical freedom for each group,” this can’t be extended by the insistence of a particular group so that certain values can be imposed on others, the judges said.

The “decision is a terrible setback for homosexual people in Singapore who want to live their lives like everyone else, without government interference,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed statement.

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

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