High Court in Singapore Dismisses Challenges to Criminalization of Same-Sex Relations


30 March 2020

Media Contact: Daina Ruduša, commsteam@outrightinternational.org, +1 (917) 622-1865

High Court in Singapore Dismisses Challenges to Criminalization of Same-Sex Relations

The High Court of Singapore has dismissed three different cases challenging the constitutionality of section 377A of the country's Penal Code, which criminalizes same-sex relations between men. As such, Singapore stands in stark contrast to international human rights standards, and has missed the opportunity to join the wave of decriminalization of same-sex relations across the world, most recently in Botswana, Angola, Trinidad and Tobago, and neighboring India.

Section 377A of the Penal Code is a relic of British Colonial rule, and prescribes imprisonment of up to 2 years. It was being challenged in terms of its constitutionality and redundancy, as the law is rarely and arbitrarily applied, in three separate cases, by plaintiffs Johnson Ong Ming, Roy Tan Seng Kee, and Bryan Choong Chee Hoong.

All three challenges were dismissed today by Justice See Kee Oon who highlighted that section 377A does not violate the constitution and “continues to serve its purpose of safeguarding public morality by showing societal moral disapproval of male homosexual acts” (paragraph 298 of judgment). Justice Oon noted, in particular, that is there is inconclusive evidence that homosexuality is biological and immutable, that regardless scientific discussions are not a matter for the court to rule on (paragraphs 277; 279), and that “identity or status is not an element of the offense” therefore applying equally to homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual men (paragraph 282).

Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, comments:

“It is incredibly disappointing to see the High Court of Singapore uphold this colonial-era law. Even while lying dormant, such laws send a strong message - that gay and bisexual men are not only second class citizens, but also criminals, purely for who they love. Today that message was amplified, legitimizing societal hate, discrimination, and exclusion of LGBTIQ people in Singapore.”

Lawyer Remy Choo, a former participant of OutRight Action International's annual Advocacy Week, who represented plaintiff Bryan Choong, comments:

“Victory isn’t ours today, but I’m confident that one day it will be. One of my favorite quotes, from a book from my childhood - Winnie the Pooh -, is 'Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.' For now, we press on.”

68 countries around the world, including Singapore, continue to criminalize same-sex relations. The plaintiffs and their lawyers will be exploring options for appeal.

Read the full text of the dismissal here.



OutRight Action International works at a global, regional and national level to eradicate the persecution, inequality and violence lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people face around the world. From its offices in 7 countries and headquarters in New York, OutRight builds capacity of LGBTIQ movements, documents human rights violations, advocates for inclusion and equality, and holds leaders accountable for protecting the rights of LGBTIQ people everywhere. OutRight has recognized consultative status at the United Nations.