Singapore’s Supreme Court recently refused to overturn the country’s ban on homosexuality which has been in place since the colonial era. The trial happened behind closed doors. The law was challenged by three people – a retired doctor, a DJ, and an LGBTQ activist. The court was not convinced and it completely dismissed their challenge.
Section 377A of Singapore’s penal code says that “any male person” who engages in “any act of gross indecency with another male person” can get up to two years in prison. This law was inherited from the British colonial era. Though the law is rarely enforced, some people have argued that it stands in contrast with the city’s modern and vibrant culture. Yet, there are some other people who have argued that Singapore is very conservative at heart. They believe that Singapore isn’t ready for change. Some officials also believe that most would not be in favour of repealing the legislation.
The challengers argued that Section 377 violates Article 12 of Singapore’s Constitution. This guarantees equal protection under the law and bans discrimination on certain, limited grounds. The challengers also argued that the law was ‘redundant’. Judge See Kee Oon, however, did not agree and stated, “Legislation remains important in reflecting public sentiment and beliefs.”
Bryan Choong who was one of the people who challenged the law said, “My eyes are firmly on the road ahead.”
M Ravi who represented one of the challengers said, “It’s shocking to the conscience and it is so arbitrary. It is so discriminatory, this legislation.”
Téa Braun of the Human Dignity Trust said: “In declining to strike out this archaic and discriminatory law, the court has reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are effectively un-apprehended criminals.”
A previous challenge to the law was rejected in 2014.
The court stated that the “supposed immutability” of sexual orientation has no proof.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also said in the past that Singapore “is not that liberal on” LGBTQ equality.
What the community thinks
The LGBTQ organization GLAAD also made their opinion known about the court ruling. Ross Murray of GLAAD said, “Singapore had an opportunity to lead the world in safeguarding and protecting its LGBTQ citizens. It’s heartbreaking that they passed on that opportunity. The plaintiffs, like all LGBTQ Singaporeans, are patriotic citizens, fighting to make their country fairer and safer for all people within its borders.”
Johnson Ong, one of the plaintiffs, is an internationally recognized DJ. His stage name is Big Kid. He spoke to GLAAD about the lawsuit and said, “Singapore’s 377A law continues to inflict harm on LGBTQ Singaporeans every day that it remains in force. My wish is for the next generation of young LGBTQ to grow up unencumbered by such an oppressive law and to have the confidence to fully participate and contribute to Singapore society without feeling less than equal.”
Ong also talked about India and its recent ruling that decriminalized homosexuality and said, “The recent India ruling and Professor Tommy Koh’s challenge for the LGBTQ community to bring a class action suit energized me. It’s time for a change; there’s no better or worse time for equality. The LGBTQ community in Singapore has suffered enough discrimination and abuse. This is a result of an unjust and archaic colonial law that has absolutely no place in Singapore in 2018.”
Ong became accustomed to living openly as a gay man.
He travels around the world constantly, playing huge LGBTQ events for crowds of thousands. He also regularly produces his own music. Talking about this, he said, “LGBTQ Americans are free to be who they are. No one bats an eyelid in LA when they find out who you are. It is a total non-issue. Traveling to different parts of the world also showed me that no matter where you come from or what your reality is, everyone wants to be treated with basic human dignity and respect. That is a universal truth.”
Ong finally stated, “This issue is bigger than any one person or any one campaign. It is a Singaporean issue and is heartening to know that many Singaporeans are now ‘woke’ to the larger issue of equality and justice and fairness.”
The bigger picture
Singapore is a diverse 280 square-mile city-state of around 5.6 million people. Large portions of the population are Buddhist, Christian, nonreligious, Muslim, and Taoist. Yet, Singapore remains one of over 70 countries that criminalize LGBTQ people or activity. There are at least five countries that impose the death penalty on LGBTQ people. Lawyers for the three plaintiffs have said that they are planning an appeal.
All we can do right now is sit back and hope that the people of Singapore continue their fight. This is an important issue that will change the course of their history. It is worth the fight.