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Singapore’s Gay Sex Ban Could Be Struck Down By New Lawsuit

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October 8 is shaping up to be a major day for LGBTQ+ rights around the world.

The same day that the U.S. Supreme Court hears a trio of cases on whether it should be legal to fire workers for being LGBTQ+, Singapore will begin hearing a new lawsuit challenging its colonial-era ban on gay sex. Under Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code, a charge of “gross indecency” between two men can result in a sentence of up to two years in prison.

Tan Seng Kee, a 61-year-old retired doctor and LGBTQ+ activist, says the law is a “relic of the Victorian age,” one that “has no place in modern society.”

“By institutionalizing discrimination, it alienates [gay men] from having a sense of belonging and purposeful place in our society, and prevents them from taking pride in Singapore’s achievements,” he said in a statement to the Agence France Presse.

The case, which is being represented by attorney M. Ravi, was filed to the High Court last week. Proceedings will begin with an October 8 pretrial conference.

This isn’t the first legal challenge to Section 377A or even the only case pending in Singapore’s courts. Bryan Choong, former executive director of the LGBTQ+ nonprofit Oogachaga, and DJ Johnson Ong are also seeking to overturn the 19th century law, which is rarely enforced.

Although the Singapore’s Court of Appeal ruled in 2014 that Section 377A is constitutional and claimed repealing it is a parliamentary matter, Tan says he is mounting a “novel” challenge to the law. His legal team will argue that because police generally don’t prosecute “gross indecency” charges, the law is inconsistent with Section

14 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which requires that authorities investigate any claims of illegal activity.

“This subjects gay men to the potential distress of an investigation into private conduct, where they have a legitimate expectation that the state will decline to prosecute,” Tan says in a press release.

LGBTQ+ groups hope the Singapore courts will be willing to revisit the matter after India successfully overturned its sodomy ban almost exactly one year ago. In September 2018, a five-judge panel of the India Supreme Court unanimously struck down its gay sex ban, calling homosexuality “one of many biological phenomena which are natural and inherent.”

However, polling shows Singaporean society is still catching up on the issue. A survey from Ipsos Public Affairs conducted the same month as India’s repeal showed that 55 percent of the city-state’s 5.6 million citizens want to keep Section 377 on the books.

RELATED | This DJ Is Challenging Singapore's Gay Sex Ban

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