The High Court of Singapore has ruled that paragraph 377A from the British colonial era will remain active, homosexuality is thus still a criminal offence. India’s Supreme Court had declared the same paragraph invalid in 2018 and freed homosexuals from illegality.

The anti-gay colonial law was introduced under British rule in 1938. Homosexual acts shall be punished with up to two years imprisonment. The paragraph has long been criticised by queer activists, as it criminalises generations of homosexuals, although it is very rarely applied. In 2007, oral and anal sex was legalszed in Singapore – but gay and bisexual men were explicitly excluded from the reform.

Many queer people from Singapore, but also from all over Asia, put their hopes in the landmark ruling from India and were disappointed. The High Court in Singapore ruled against reason and progress. It dismissed the complaints of three activists only last week that the criminalisation of consensual same-sex sexual activity violates the constitutional rights to personal freedom, equality before the law and freedom of expression.

 

Already in October 2014, attempts to get the Singapore Court of Appeal to overturn the anti-gay law were in vain. At that time, it was said that the queer community had to wait for a reform of the said paragraph.

Progress? The chance is lost

After the ruling, the disappointment was huge. Téa Braun, director of the Human Dignity Trust, explained afterwards:

“This decision will be extremely disappointing for the plaintiffs and the wider LGBT community in Singapore. They had high hopes that new evidence presented to the court would make it clear that these draconian laws could not stand up to proper constitutional scrutiny”.

In addition, the verdict would certainly have a damaging echo in Asia – the continent where millions of people are still being criminalised on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, Braun said. Sexual acts between men are illegal in 22 Asian countries; those between women in 17 countries.

Much has happened in India since the 2018 ruling – in February 2020 the first gay Bollywood RomCom came to the cinemas. In an interview with German newspater ‘taz’, lesbian entrepreneur Susan Dias from Mumbai spoke last year about how companies were discovering the queer subculture for themselves and commercialising homosexuality. And in the interview with magazine ‘Männer’, Indian Bollywood actor Saattvic told us how the mood in the community had generally improved since the verdict.

But the struggle goes on. India does not have comprehensive protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and identity, nor does it have legal recognition of same-sex couples. In addition, especially in rural areas there is still a very negative attitude towards homosexuality.

Nevertheless: in India, the first step has been taken. The queer community in Singapore has to wait and keep fighting. A small bit of hope remains: The case will probably be returned to the Court of Appeal. It made the 2014 ruling which was largely responsible for the current High Court ruling. In Singapore, the Supreme Court is divided into the High Court and the Court of Appeal, but the latter has more freedom of action.

Singapore ranked 92nd in the Spartacus Travel Index 2020, along with other countries – including Kazakhstan and Armenia.

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  • 1280px-Supreme_Court_of_Singapore_at_night_(HDR)_-_20071115: By Socksiong - Own work., CC BY-SA 4.0 / wikimedia.org

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