SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore’s highest court ruled on Wednesday that a law that criminalizes sex between men is in line with the city-state’s constitution, rejecting two separate appeals by three men that the measure infringed their human rights.
The judgment comes as gay rights have become an increasingly thorny issue in Singapore’s traditionally conservative society.
Massage therapist Tan Eng Hong and gay couple Lim Meng Suang and Kenneth Chee Mun-Leon sought a repeal of the law, which prescribes a jail term of up to two years for men who engage in any act of “gross indecency”, in public or private.
They said it infringed their rights to equality, life and personal liberty under Singapore’s constitution, a claim the court rejected.
“Whilst 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,” said the judgment delivered by Court of Appeal judge Andrew Phang Boon Leong.
The court said the law, known as Section 377A of the Penal Code, passed a test to determine if it complied with the constitutional right of equality.
Tan was arrested for having oral sex with another man in a public toilet in 2010. He and his partner were initially charged under Section 377A, though the prosecutor later substituted charges under a different law. Lim and Chee have been in a relationship for 15 years.
An annual gay rights rally this year drew a record crowd as well as noisy opposition from religious groups, while a ban of a comic and children’s book featuring homosexual characters triggered a storm of protest.
The judgment is a step backwards for human rights in Singapore, said M Ravi, a human rights lawyer who acted for Tan in the case.
“It appears that this absurd and discriminatory law criminalizes the core aspect of an individual’s identity, in this case, homosexual men,” he said in a statement.
The measure does not target sex between lesbians, however.
“This unequal treatment in the law is based on hatred for hatred’s sake, and discrimination for discrimination’s sake, and nothing else,” Ravi added.
Reporting by Rujun Shen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez