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Singapore LGBT+ activists approach country's top court to overturn gay sex ban

Reuters logo Reuters 4/1/2020 By Beh Lih Yi, Thomson Reuters Foundation

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - S ingaporean gay activists have turned to the country's highest court to overturn a colonial-era ban on sex between men, a lawyer said on Wednesday, after they failed in a legal challenge this week.

Singapore's High Court on Monday rejected petitions from three gay men who challenged the law, which punishes same-sex acts between men. Offenders can be jailed for up to two years under the rarely-invoked legislation.

The court upheld the law - known as Section 377A - on grounds it remained important to reflect public beliefs, but two of the three activists have now filed an appeal to the nation's highest court.

"The Court of Appeal will be the final arbiter of the case," lawyer Johannes Hadi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, adding he expected the appeal to be heard by early next year.

Similar attempts to overturn the ban in socially-conservative Singapore, a former British colony, failed in 2014.

The three gay men - a disc jockey, a retired doctor and a LGBT+ rights activist - launched separate legal challenges last year after India decriminalised gay sex in 2018.

"This needs to go to appeal," said Johnson Ong, the DJ. "The fact remains that Section 377A continues to inflict harm on LGBT+ Singaporeans every day that it remains in force."

The retired doctor, Roy Tan, said he was disappointed the court reaffirmed a law that was "unjust and archaic".

"The statute discriminates against a significant demographic that contributes in no small measure to the country's economy," said Tan.

Singapore has emerged as a modern nation since independence six decades ago but socially it remains conservative, partly due to sensitivities stemming from multi-religious groups among its 5.6 million population.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has previously said that society in Singapore "is not that liberal on these matters", although recent opinion polls suggested there was growing acceptance. (Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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