Test 2

Please select your preferred language.

請選擇你慣用的語言。

请选择你惯用的语言。

English
中文简体
台灣繁體
香港繁體

Login

Remember Me

New to Fridae?

Fridae Mobile

Highlights
Advertisement

More About Us

News & Features

« Newer | Older »
14 Feb 2013

Singapore High Court hears challenge of anti-gay sex law

Arguing that section 377A is constitutional, the Attorney-General argues that the law applies to all men, not just self-identified gay men, who have sex with other men; the law “reflects public morality”; and "because there is a scientifically-established difference between the public health risks associated with sex between men and sex between women."

Advertisement

The Singapore High Court today heard the first full hearing of a challenge filed by a gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee who are seeking to challenge the constitutionality of section 377A of the Penal Code that prohibits sexual relations between men.

Supreme Court Building, Singapore

The case was heard by Justice Quentin Loh and was conducted in chambers meaning that only the parties who are directly involved in the matter may attend. Chee or Lim were not present for the hearing that lasted three and a half hours.

The plaintiffs, through their lawyers, Peter Low and Choo Zheng Xi from Peter Low LLC and Indulekshmi Rajeswari from MyintSoe & Selvaraj have filed a 123-page submission.

Supporting affidavits by Professor Roy Chan, founder and President of Action for AIDS Singapore; and Bryan Choong, Centre Manager & Counselor of Oogachaga, a gay and lesbian affirmative counseling agency in Singapore, to explain the negative effect of s377A on homosexual men were not allowed by the judge.

Summary of the plaintiffs’ key arguments

1. Article 12 of the Constitution covers protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Government has admitted this, in their replies to the questions of the CEDAW Committee in 2011.

2. S 377A is absurd, arbitrary and unreasonable since it criminalises identity of the person.

a. Homosexuality or same-sex attractions are innate and immutable, and change comes at a great personal cost to the person.

3. S 377A is absurd, arbitrary and unreasonable since it is selectively and arbitarily enforced.

4. S 377A is absurd, arbitrary and unreasonable since it causes harm to gay/bisexual men

a. Through limiting HIV/AIDS outreach. Since gay sex acts are illegal, it causes a lot of difficulty in the work of HIV/AIDS outreach organisations in reaching out to at-risk populations. It is particularly difficult to reach out to gay youth. Dr Roy Chan from AFA has given expert evidence on this matter.

b. By causing psychological damage. By criminalising the very identity of the person, it devalues and degrades the person. Young gay/bisexual teens are especially vulnerable, as they are insitutionally cut off from any support. Mr Bryan Choong from Oogachaga has given his expert evidence on the matter.

c. Makes it difficult to approach law enforcement for protection and leaves them particularly vulnerable to blackmail. Anyone can report a gay friend, relative or colleague. Men who have been raped, or those who are domestic violence victims, can never approach the police without worrying that they will be prosecuted.

5. S 377A fails the two-stage test of Constitutionality

a. The term “gross indecency” is so vague as to be completely unintelligible

b. There is no rational relation between the law and the objective of the law

i. If the objective of the law was to protect public morality or family values, the law is grossly underinclusive, as it does not cover lesbians and heterosexuals who choose to commit other acts which are against public morality, such as adultery or pre-marital sex

ii. In any case, there is no evidence that homosexuality harms family values

iii. If the objective was to protect public health, then the law does not work either, since it makes HIV/AIDS outreach more difficult

iv. If the objective was to protect the young, it does not work very well, since there are no age of consent provisions. Furthermore, there are other provisions in our legal system that protect the young, such as s 376A of the Penal Code.

v. If the objective was to protect public decency, it is vastly over-inclusive since it covers acts in private. Furthermore, there are other provisions in our legal system that protect public decency, such as s 294(a) of the Penal Code.

Summary of submissions for the Attorney-General

In a media statement obtained by Fridae, the Attorney-General argued that s 377A is constitutional under Article 12 of the Constitution of Singapore as “the classification in s 377A is founded on an intelligible differentia between men and women” and cited the objectives of preserving “public morality” and “public health”.

The Attorney-General argued that section 377A is constitutional as it is applies to all men, not just gay men, who have sex with other men.

“We have submitted that the differentiation in s 377A is simply between men and women. Section 377A does not apply specifically to men who identify as homosexual. It equally applies to those who identify as heterosexual or bisexual, so long as the relevant acts are committed.”

The AG also explained that although the law “reflect(s) public morality”, lesbian sex is not criminalised so as to “strike a legitimate balance between the moral norms of the majority and the interests of homosexuals.”

“In addition, the Attorney-General submits that s 377A has the clearly-stated purpose of reflecting public morality. This is based on the fact that the majority of Singaporeans still find homosexual acts unacceptable, as reflected in Parliamentary debates. Although Parliament has chosen to retain the wording of s 377A which does not encompass homosexual acts between females, this decision strikes a legitimate balance between the moral norms of the majority and the interests of homosexuals. As the objective of s 377A to reflect public morality is still substantially advanced even with this differentiation, the differentiation is not of itself unconstitutional.”

The AG also argued that the Court should find section 377A constitutional under Article 12 of the Constitution because sex between men poses a substantially higher likelihood of transmission of sexually transmitted infections as compared to sex between women which has "much lower" risks.

“We have further argued that the Court should find s 377A constitutional under Art 12 of the Constitution because there is a scientifically-established difference between the public health risks associated with sex between men and sex between women. The former poses a substantially higher likelihood of transmission of sexually transmitted infections such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (“HIV”), as well as posing other health risks. By contrast, there have been no documented cases of HIV transmission arising from sex between women and the health risks associated with such acts are generally much lower.”

The AG added, “the evidence raised by the Plaintiffs that they face difficulties as homosexual persons in Singapore are not sufficient grounds to discharge the burden of showing that s 377A is unconstitutional under Art 12.”

Justice Quentin Loh will hear a separate case filed by Tan Eng Hong who was initially charged under section 377A in 2010. His charge was later amended to section 294 (obscene act in public). His lawyer M Ravi had by then initiated a constitutional challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code. In August 2012, Singapore’s Court of Appeal overturned an earlier decision by the High Court to rule that Tan and other gay men are affected by the law and therefore have a legitimate interest in pursuing the case in court.

Singapore

Reader's Comments

1. 2013-02-14 20:05  
Wishing success to Singaporeans in this fight against discrimination!
Looking foward to hear the results of this challenge!
2. 2013-02-14 21:15  
I think it's oxymoronic for AG to use "public morality" and "established health findings" to argue that s377a is constitutional.

In the first place, it's not within "public morality" for the ministers to go ahead with the white paper plan for population. Or the world class ministers' remuneration. Etc. Etc. The list could go on, but since when public morality suddenly becomes a consideration?

And I think there's pretty established health findings proving that chastity greatly reduces risk of STDs transmission, so why not just ban sex altogether? This is a pretty weak excuse, if you ask me. Even when the ministers were considering to build casino in Singapore, they already knew there were inherent risk of introducing social issues. Still, they went with it. Given the trend, perhaps economic benefits outweighs social benefits.

Why not Singapore starts up an adult entertainment industry too? I'm sure that'll rack up some big cash and boost the economy like how it is for Japan.
3. 2013-02-14 21:45  
The point on health risks is problematic. All sexual acts - homosexual and heterosexual, are inherently risky. Consider that in Singapore, about 50% of new HIV infections are heterosexual in nature. The AG did not consider that MSMs tend to be disproportionately affected by HIV PRECISELY because of discriminatory laws as 377A. Commercial sex workers also spread STDs, but prostitution is legal in Singapore so the government can better monitor STD transmission / prevention in this sector. By outlawing gay sex, government is just avoiding to deal with the issue.
4. 2013-02-15 00:02  
Just to touch on one key point - the argument that such a law is not discriminatory because it (theoretically) applies to all men- this has been rejected by all courts in the developed world. It’s universally been held that the law targets a section of the community, gay men, because it is gay men that are sexually and emotionally attracted to their own sex.

It is discriminatory in a similar way to a law that would ban the wearing of a gold crucifix by all women: while it could be argued it applies to all women, it clearly would target a certain section of the community, Christian women, and would therefore be discriminatory.

I believe the Court of Appeal has already accepted (correct me if I’m wrong) that gay men are a class particularly affected by 377A and therefore have legal standing to make these applications. It obviously follows that the Court accepts that the law discriminates against gay men. The question to be decided is, is such discrimination constitutional. Even India has said it is not.
5. 2013-02-15 12:19  
The Government argues that 377A doesn't cover Lesbian sex as a balancing between the "moral norms" of the majority of Singaporeans and "interests of homosexuals"?? Now that's what I call a government by the People, for the people. It's just a pity the People are small, petty, corrupt and greed-mongers. Demand more, people. It's not your right; its your responsibility.
Comment #6 was deleted by its author on 2013-02-15 13:49
7. 2013-02-15 18:42  
Now, it's actually better for us when BOTH camps (yes, including the anti-gay camp which outnumber us) shut up and sit down.
8. 2013-02-15 19:45  
@7, I am sure that is correct, however calmly discussing dry and abstract points of law among ourselves is perfectly ok, imho. What is not ok is to launch campaigns and petitions or for politicians to make statements, that could pressure the court in its deliberations.
9. 2013-02-15 20:25  
@sunthemoon: Better for whom, exactly? Better why? Out of fear? Toss that. And toss the government. Banana republic thinking. But if you'd like to shut up and sit down, go right ahead. But please, I beseech you, don't sit down on a willy lest you offend the delicate morals of your family and peers. Only more of the same awaits you in the clincker.
10. 2013-02-15 20:59  
@9:

Q: Better for whom, exactly?
A: For LGBT community. Specifically, the court judgement.

Q: Better why?
A: We are outnumbered. So if there is no rule to restrict airing of views on this law, it means that our camp's views would be outshone by the opposing camp's. This had happened before when there was a petition to repeal the same law in Parliament a few years ago. As this issue was then a social-political issue, the public was free to air their views. The outcome, as expected, was that we were outshone, and the opposing camp, which was larger, louder and fiercer, got their way, and their vocal opposition to the petition was one of the reasons why the Parliament decided not to repeal the law.

Hence, if the decision on whether to keep this law is based on which camp is more vocal and influential, we would definitely lose the battle. This had been tested and proven.

Today, fortunately, this is no longer a social-political issue. It is a court case, so both camps are required by law to stay silent. The decision is now to be based on legal principles--not which camp is more vocal, reasonable or influential. Unlike the mentioned Petition, noise on the ground should NOT influence the outcome. The elected lawmakers should NOT influence the judiciary. It is the judge who will decide now, not the elected lawmakers.

As such, it is certainly not a good thing for us if the judge is affected by noise on the ground. As you know, the courts of other Commonwealth jurisdictions such as South Africa and India had judged on similar appeals. They arrived at their decisions not based on noise on the ground.

Let's co-operate and let the judge do her job without being affected by noise from the ground. No noise is blessing. Let her decide based on legal principles, which was what the judges in the mentioned foreign courts had done.

Q: Out of fear?
A: Out of good reasons as explained.
Comment edited on 2013-02-15 23:20:38
11. 2013-02-15 22:53  
looks like a lot of hoopla involved in acceptance of gays in singapore
compared with legal acceptance in Canada!
what gives here?
some asian countries so much behind us here in that regard will they ever catch up!
12. 2013-02-16 03:10  
London 15 Feb "Metro" London free morning paper page 30 world News section: I was reading this feature last night (14 Feb. 13) on Fridae site before seeing the artical in the Metro and wanted to express my thought and support.
I agree with Sunthenmoon. (please read)Law will change but there's the right approach and procedures.The Commonwealth jurisdiction world wide will be observing what is happening in Singapore and the Judge and Cambers will do their research.
I wish them great success and you have my support.
R :-)
13. 2013-02-16 08:29  
Singapore's government: Continuing to look like bigots in front of her peers. (As though being a generally-benign dictatorship that's a little too free and easy to squash a free press, or signs of dissent, or any meaningful citizen rights, wasn't already enough reason to avoid Singapore's government at cocktail parties.)

If Singapore's leaders are so concerned about "morality", why not simply break off trade with all the countries that have okayed homosexuality? What about all the countries that are actively working towards gay marriage, on top of the civil partnerships that already exist? What about the countries that actively promote equality and anti-homophobia laws? No?

Idiots.
14. 2013-02-16 13:06  
@sunthemoon: I'm sorry. The justification appears faulty. What you call "noise" is what I call clarifying perspective. Legal arguments are made, counsel sat down, yet the legal arguments are, for the most part nothing more than a condensed version of the noise you so rue. Yet there is something lacking that the noise imbues so clearly...the human element of lives altered, squelched by dread, fear and loathing, of bigotry and other fears. Its not how loud you shout; it's that the shout is real. Your judiciary is hardly known for its political independence; why else would the PM chime-in on an ongoing case except that the government is about the law.

Anyway, sit back and wait. If the ruling in positive, then smile. If not, look for blame. I really don't care. But don't ever think a closeted, fearful gay, man or woman, living a lie will ever have the right, moral or otherwise, to tell out gay men or women that it's better to shut up. Expedient, maybe. Better, never. We are our voices.
15. 2013-02-17 08:07  
PERHAPS GAYS SHOULD JUST BOYCOT SINGAPORE TOURISM UNTIL THE GOVERNMENT GETS THE MESSAGE! I've stopped transiting on SQ, and now fly to Asia on TG/Thai via Bangkok.
16. 2013-02-21 02:20  
European countries, American States, Canada, Australia and South Africa have not as yet issued any reports that gay marriages are challenging family values. To say that they do, is not only incredibly short-sighted, but totally and utterly disrespectful to the LGBT community as well!

A few points:

“….s 377A has the clearly-stated purpose of reflecting public morality…..”
Oh really ah? Isn’t the LGBT community part of the ‘public’ as well? What about the LGBT morality? So in effect, s 377A CAN’T even begin to reflect the so-called ‘public morality’ at best!

“…..scientifically-established difference between the public health risks associated with sex between men and sex between women…..”
Oh really ah? Statistics have been out for yonks that more straight people than gays or lesbians are HIV infected. So one has to wonder how this notion was actually established ‘scientifically’!

“……not sufficient grounds to discharge the burden of showing that s 377A is unconstitutional under Art 12…..”
Oh really ah? S 377A is unconstitutional already just on the grounds it being discriminatory and disrespectful, not to mention the fact that whom anyone has sex with is NOBODY’s business! NOT even the Singapore Government!

This article on the Singapore Government side has more holes in it than a mass gay orgy event…..

And why do straight people get to make these decisions anyway? Why do straight people have so much to say about the LGBT community, when they don’t have the faintest idea what LGBT people are all about? For these are not the kind of people who should be making these decisions for the LGBT community anyway!

Please log in to use this feature.

Select News Edition

Featured Profiles

Now ALL members can view unlimited profiles!

Languages

View this page in a different language:

Like Us on Facebook

Partners

 ILGA Asia - Fridae partner for LGBT rights in Asia IGLHRC - Fridae Partner for LGBT rights in Asia

Advertisement