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Singapore Court Won't Overturn Ban on Sex Between Men

An LGBTQ+ event in Singapore
An LGBTQ+ event in Singapore

The law is not being enforced, but it is up to the nation's Parliament to repeal it, the Singapore Court of Appeal ruled.

Singapore's highest court Monday declined to overturn a law criminalizing sex between men, saying those who brought the lawsuit do not have standing to sue because the law is not enforced.

Roy Tan, one of three men who sued, praised the Singapore Court of Appeal's statement that the law was unenforceable, but he told the South China Morning Post that the statute still needs to be struck down because it "is a huge signpost to society that gay men are still criminals." Tan, a retired doctor, plans further legal challenges. But the court said it is up to the city-state's Parliament, not the courts, to change the law.

The law, known as Section 377A, dates to 1938, when Singapore was a British colony. It provides for up to two years in prison for violators. It does not apply to sex between women.

Other LGBTQ+ rights activists joined Tan in expressing disappointment with the ruling. "The acknowledgment that Section 377A is unenforceable only in the prosecutorial sense is cold comfort," said a statement from the LGBTQ+ organization Pink Dot SG. "Section 377A's real impact lies in how it perpetuates discrimination across every aspect of life: at home, in schools, in the workplace, in our media, and even access to vital services like health care."

Speaking to The New York Times, Pink Dot SG spokesman Clement Tan added, "Today's ruling is frustrating for those who were hoping for some real change. Despite acknowledging that gay men should be able to live freely in Singapore, without harassment or interference, the court still hesitated to strike it down. It now falls on Parliament to deal the final blow to Section 377A."

In 2007, Parliament repealed adjacent laws banning oral and anal sex between consenting adults but maintained Section 337A, which prohibits "any act of gross indecency" between men, while saying the government would not enforce it. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has often said Singapore's population is too conservative to accept repeal of Section 377A.

Activists are concerned that the government could decide to begin enforcing the law at any time. "We may be safe from prosecution today, but we may not be safe 10 years or two years from now, or even next month," Ong Ming Johnson, another of the men who brought the lawsuit, told the Times.

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