Singapore Top Court Tackles Legal Challenge to 76-Year Ban on Gay Oral & Anal Sex

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By Vittorio Hernandez | July 15, 2014 8:49 AM EST

A gay male couple who has been together for 17 years had challenged Singapore's 76-year ban on oral and anal sex, and the country's highest court is hearing the legal challenge. Violators of the ban are charged with gross indecency and face jail terms of up to two years.

REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
Tarah Camarillo (L-R), her partner Nicole Barnes, Leighton Hilburn and his partner Preston Perry wait in line with hundreds of other people to apply for a marriage license at the Salt Lake County Clerks office in Salt Lake City, Utah, December 23, 2013.

Kenneth Chee and Gary Lim said the prohibition, which was first adopted in 1938 when Singapore was under British rule, is discriminatory to homosexual males and breaches their right to equal protection guaranteed by the city-state's charter.

The two-day hearing at the Singapore Court of Appeal on the legal challenge started on Monday.

Law Minister K Shanmugam said in June that majority of Singaporeans favoured retaining the current legal framework, Section 377A, which legislators kept in 2007, but decriminalised heterosexual oral and anal sex.

A survey commissioned by the government, whose results were released in August 2013, said that 48 per cent of the 4,000 respondents rejected gay lifestyle, 26 per cent approved and 27 per cent had neutral views.

He said that because of changing and evolving social rules, the Singaporean government believes that in such a situation, the better option is to agree to disagree.

From 1997 to 2006, before heterosexual oral and anal sex was decriminalised, 185 people were convicted under that section, data from the Home Affairs Ministry said. To catch gay men engaging in fellatio and sodomy, undercover Singaporean police engaged in sting operations in the early 1990s. Homosexual men trapped by the sting operations were charged with molestation and public solicitation.

The effort was not limited to gay couples, but included the suspension of the publishing licence of a magazine that had advertisements which targeted gay men, while theatre productions considered promoting the gay lifestyle were censored.

Besides the legal challenge from Chee, 38, and Lim, 46, the court made up of Judges Andrew Phang, Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li will also hear a parallel appear by another male, Tan Eng Hong.

In contrast to Singapore's conservative stand, other countries have in the past two years made changes in laws. One is India which in December 2013 overturned a 2009 decision that declared consensual gay sex a breach of the law, while New Zealand just legalised gay marriages.

There were periods when Singapore was more tolerant such as the government allowing holding the Pink Dot gay pride event yearly since 2009. In the 2014 parade, 26,000 people wearing pink clothing showed up. The event was sponsored by Google, Barclays and Goldman Sachs Group.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart / )
Tarah Camarillo (L-R), her partner Nicole Barnes, Leighton Hilburn and his partner Preston Perry wait in line with hundreds of other people to apply for a marriage license at the Salt Lake County Clerks office in Salt Lake City, Utah, December 23, 2013.
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