lawyer and former Executive Director of the Inter-University LGBT Network, Singapore
A date has now been fixed for the Singapore apex Court, the Court of Appeal, to determine whether Singapore’s colonial era anti-gay legislation known as Section 377A stands or falls.
Section 377A was imported into Singapore in colonial times, and was introduced in 1938 in what was then known as the Straits Settlements. The outcome of the case will be closely watched as similar legislation was introduced by the British colonial authorities in other former colonies like Myanmar and Malaysia.
In March 2020, the Singapore High Court issued its judgment in Ong Ming Johnson and others v Attorney-General. The case involved constitutional challenges by three gay men to Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises “gross indecency” between men. The case was dismissed by the Singapore High Court, and the appeal against the decision will be heard in the week of 8 January 2021.
The Plaintiffs who started the constitutional challenge are Mr Johnson Ong, a radio DJ, Mr Bryan Choong, a former Executive Director of an LGBT counselling NGO, and Dr Roy Tan, a general practitioner.
Through their lawyers, the plaintiffs argued that Section 377A violates their rights to life and personal liberty (Article 9), equality before the law (Article 12) and freedom of expression (Article 14) under the Singapore Constitution.
The three men had filed their challenge in the Singapore High Court shortly after the landmark ruling in Navtej Singh Johar v Union of Indiaby the Indian Supreme Court to strike down the criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual conduct.
In the Singapore High Court, the plaintiffs argued that Section 377A violated the right to freedom of expression, which includes a right of all adult Singaporeans to engage in private, consensual acts of sexual intimacy with other persons.
The plaintiffs further argued that Section 377A is absurd and arbitrary by criminalising a class of persons based on their sexual orientation, which is immutable and biologically determined.
Finally, the plaintiffs also argued that Section 377A is absurd or arbitrary because it is rendered redundant given the Singapore Government’s decision not to actively enforce the law.
In addition to the constitutional challenges, a campaign called Ready4Repeal was launched by activists to call for the legislative repeal of Section 377A in 2018. The struggle to abolish this law persists as we continue the slow march towards LGBTQ equality in Singapore.
See previous article on section 377a here.