SINGAPORE – The Singapore Supreme Court upheld a rarely used law on Monday that makes sex between men punishable and dismissed three appeals that it was unconstitutional.
The ruling follows the challenges to the colonial law by activists who were encouraged after India’s decision to abolish similar laws in 2018. Previous efforts to lift the social-conservative city-state in 2014 also failed.
“The High Court rejects all three applications,” said Judge See Kee Oon in a summary of the case released by the court.
“Legislation remains important to reflect public opinion and belief,” she said, adding that failure to enforce the law against consensual homosexual activity by men in the private sphere did not make it unnecessary.
Bryan Choong, one of the three men who contested the law, said he was disappointed with the verdict. “But my eyes are fixed on the street,” he said.
The Attorney General’s chambers did not immediately speak. Previously, it was said that the prosecution was not in the public interest.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong previously said that Singapore society “is not so liberal on these issues”.
After the Indian decision, a prominent Singapore diplomat challenged the city-state law, while Justice Minister K. Shanmugam said a “growing minority” wanted it to be lifted and the law to keep pace with social change.
Polls have also indicated that attitudes toward gays are changing and that some established personalities are adopting a softer tone.
The complainants in Monday’s cases had argued that section 377A, which provides prison terms of up to two years for a man who has “grossly indecency” with another man, is unconstitutional. The law does not apply to lesbians.
Right-wing groups had said Singapore’s decision had far-reaching implications for Asia, where social attitudes are conservative.
“When the court refused to repeal this archaic and discriminatory law, it reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are in fact non-detained criminals,” said Téa Braun, director of the London-based Human Dignity Trust group, in a statement .
Neighbors with a Muslim majority, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, were concerned about growing intolerance to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.