Activist sues Singapore saying it must either scrap or enforce law against gay sex

An LGBT+ campaigner is suing Singapore over its ban against gay sex – saying the country must either fully enforce the law or scrap it.

At the moment, Singapore insists on maintaining Section 377A, the colonial era law which can jail men for two years for gay sex. However, it rarely uses the legislation and a small gay scene thrives in the island nation.

But LGBT+ activist Tan Seng Kee – better known as Roy Tan – has come up with a fresh way to undermine the country’s stance.

Singapore law says citizens can challenge the country’s authorities if they start applying the law inconsistently. 

Tan told Thomson Reuters Foundation: ‘It’s a recourse that every citizen has when adversely affected by the administration of the law by the government.

‘Once the administration of law is inconsistent due to a policy or action of the government, we can have recourse at the High Court or Court of Appeal to force the government to undo their action or policy.

‘There are two ways they can do this: the first way is to make 377A enforceable again but that would be unthinkable because it would mean every gay man who had sex in private would have to be hauled up to the police.

‘The best option would be to get rid of Section 377A completely and that in one fell swoop would eliminate all these inconsistencies, which is what I’m aiming for.’

Second case against Section 377A

However, 62-year-old retired doctor Tan already has another case challenging the law before Singapore’s courts.

In March, the southeast Asian country’s High Court refused his call to strike down the homosexuality law. Tan, along with Mr Johnson Ong Ming, a disc jockey and producer, swiftly filed appeals.

It will likely take around 10 months for the High Court to hear this new legal challenge. But Tan will scrap it if the Court of Appeal rules in favor of his previously constitutional challenge.

Pressure has mounted on Singapore to scrap its gay sex law after India’s Supreme Court legalized homosexuality in 2018.

British colonial rulers imposed similar ‘sodomy’ laws across their empire, often with the same wording. Indeed, in India, the law was also Section 377 of the Penal Code.

Therefore the legal arguments lawyers use to strike down the laws in one place can often be applied to other countries.

Meanwhile LGBT+ Singaporeans continue to have an unusual status. The city’s scene is relatively open and even includes gay bathhouses. Moreover Singapore’s Pink Dot celebrations are a huge and very public annual protest against the law.

However, the law hangs over all LGBT+ people. It stops the community advancing other rights. Trans people can change gender in Singapore but there is no same-sex marriage or discrimination protection.

Meanwhile, many western workers in Singapore’s many big international companies are openly LGBT+.

Many believe the authorities do not enforce the law because they fear backlash from multinational companies on which the country depends. That makes Tan’s new challenge a particular threat to Singapore’s current stance.

By contrast, fewer native Singaporeans feel safe to be out at work or in their families.

Ready4Repeal, which campaigns to scrap Section 377A says LGBT+ Singaporeans ‘yearn to be treated as equals in their own country’.


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