Mr Tan Eng Hong, who was charged under the provision that criminalises same-sex activity, and Mr Lim Meng Suang and Mr Kenneth Chee Mun-Leon, a gay couple, separately brought cases against Section 377A of the Penal Code, arguing that the provision, which outlaws consensual gay sex, infringed on their rights. After initial losses at the High Court of Singapore, they appealed and their cases were heard together in July 2014.
Private same-sex sexual activity between adults has been illegal in Singapore since 1938, with the Penal Code that the British exported.
In the written ruling, handed down today, the judges said:
“While we understand the deeply-held personal feelings of the appellants, there is nothing that this court can do to assist them. Their remedy lies, if at all, in the legislative sphere.”
Jonathan Cooper, Chief Executive of the London-based Human Dignity Trust, which provided technical legal assistance to support the challenge, said:
This decision means that every gay man living in Singapore remains an unapprehended criminal. And the criminalisation of homosexuality does not only affect men. The culture of shame and homophobia it fosters forms a shadow of oppression over Singapore’s entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
The decision of the Court of Appeal to maintain the country’s anti-gay law – a poisonous remnant of British colonial rule – is a great disappointment, if not a surprise.
The Singaporean Constitution does not protect basic rights such as privacy and dignity, and is therefore very limited in comparison to other Commonwealth countries we work in, which show more promise for legal challenges. There is nowhere to go from the Singaporean Court of Appeal, meaning that this judgment is final. We must now look to the Singaporean Government, where strong leadership and progressive legislative change is required to pave the only path forward for LGBTI people.
The Singaporean Government must see, as the international business community will, that archaic homophobic laws frankly have no place in a modern hub of global finance and commerce. The stakes are high for multinational companies with a presence in Singapore, whose gay employees are currently at risk of prosecution simply for being who they are. Employers with a commitment to equality and diversity face a difficult dilemma.