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Singapore court refuses to overturn anti-gay law criminalising homosexuality

Singapore's Court of Appeal has thrown out a challenge to the law, which was imposed in 1938 during British colonial rule.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Pexels

LGBTQ activists in Singapore say they are “disappointed” after the Court of Appeals smacked down a challenge to a colonial-era law criminalising gay sex.

Singapore’s Section 377A, which criminalises acts of “gross indecency” between men with a penalty of up to two years imprisonment, was imposed in 1938 during British colonial rule.

Dismissing an attempt to overturn the law, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon that three men bringing challenges had no legal standing because the Singaporean government has already pledged not to enforce the law.


Menon said that the law was “unenforceable” and that because authorities in the city-state weren’t widely prosecuting people for having gay sex, the constitution was not being contravened (as reported by Reuters).

A statement from Ready4Repeal, an online movement petitioning for the repeal of Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code, reads: “We, as organisations advocating for LGBTQ+ equality in Singapore, are disappointed with the Court of Appeal’s landmark ruling on Section 377A, which comes as a setback for all who were hoping for a resounding conclusion to this decades-long fight for equality.”

It continues: “While this is a small step in the right direction, this simply does not go far enough to provide real protection to the LGBTQ+ community, who continue to be impacted by the cascading effects of Section 377A. In fact, the judges themselves acknowledged that even with the assurance of unenforceability, homosexual men will still be left open to police investigations as if a crime had been committed.”

Téa Braun, the chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust, also says “in declining to completely strike out the law criminalising same-sex intimacy, gay and bisexual men in Singapore are still effectively un-apprehended criminals and subject to a culture of shame and homophobia.”

The laws had previously been challenged in 2014 and 2020. 

Equaldex lists data from the World Values Survey 2017-2020 as showing that 59.1 percent see homosexuality as “not justifiable”. A 2018 Ipsos poll shows that only 28 percent of people asked said they thought gay sex should be legal. 

Attitude’s new-look March/April issue is out now.