Singapore diplomat urges gays to challenge sex ban


Sat, Sep 08, 2018 - Page 6

A senior Singaporean diplomat yesterday urged the country’s gay community to challenge a law banning homosexual sex after India’s top court stuck down similar legislation, a rare high-level intervention on the issue.

Singaporean Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh (許通美) made the comments on Facebook in response to a post about Thursday’s historic ruling, which followed a decades-long campaign against the law in India.

“I would encourage our gay community to bring a class-action [lawsuit] to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A,” Koh said, referring to the Singaporean law that criminalizes sex between men.

Responding to a comment that previous petitions to strike down the law were unsuccessful, Singapore’s former ambassador to the US and envoy to the United Nations said: “Try again.”

While Singapore boasts a modern and vibrant culture, attitudes toward homosexuality remain conservative. Sex between men remains technically illegal under a law dating back to British colonial rule, although the statute is rarely enforced.

Despite the challenges, support for gay rights has been growing over the past few years in the city-state of 5.6 million. Huge crowds attended the 10th anniversary of Singapore’s annual Pink Dot gay rights rally in July.

Leading Singaporean gay rights group Pink Dot said the Indian ruling showed that attitudes toward homosexuals were “positively changing in Asia” and called on parliament to decriminalize gay sex.

In 2014, Singapore’s highest court dismissed a constitutional challenge to the law and said it was up to parliament to repeal it.

Singaporean Minister of Home Affairs Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam said the government was caught in between a majority of Singaporeans opposing the repeal of the law and a “growing minority” who want it abolished.

“Really I think society has to decide which direction it wants to go,” Shanmugan said. “The laws will have to keep pace with the changes in society.”