Lawyers in Singapore challenge constitutional ‘morality’ on gay rights



Singapore is currently embroiled in a legal battle over the “morality” of gay rights in a case that could have far-reaching affects for the Southeast Asian city-state.

M. Ravi is arguing against Attorney General Aedit Abdullah in the highest court in the country that the law against gays, known as s377a, is unconstitutional. M. Ravi’s case is based on two principles within the Singaporean Constitution: that no person shall be deprived of “personal liberty before the law” and “all people are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection.”

The Attorney General’s case however, rests on the ‘public morality’ clause in the constitution that argues that because the majority of Singaporeans view gay people as being “immoral,” laws to suppress homosexuality are therefore constitutional. 

Abdullah parallels the gay lifestyle to a public health hazard, saying that the laws are non-discriminatory in the same way that the Environmental Public Health Act is non-discriminatory when it prohibits the spreading of human feces as manure. 

Justice Quentin Loh is presiding over the case and so far he has refused to accept that s377A is legal because it limits the spread of HIV and has rejected all arguments centered on public health. 

His focus has instead been on M. Ravi’s argument that s377a is “arbitrary” and “unconstitutional” because it only targets gay men and not gay women. Justice Loh is also presiding over a similar court case, Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee v. Attorney-General, which is also seeking to overturn s377A as a discriminatory law. 

Justice Loh is expected to release the ruling on both cases at around the same time in the coming weeks, although a specific date has not been stated. 

The law in contention known as s377a criminalizes any “indecent acts” with other men with fines and prison punishments of up to two years. 

An important distinction in the law that is being challenged by M. Ravi is that the law does not prohibit females from homosexual acts. 

The law, like many anti-LGBT legislation in former colonies, stems from British rule going back to the 1800s when British morality and puritanism was a political concern.

Singapore is a modern Southeast Asian country, but in some ways lags behind other equally developed countries concerning many social issues. 

Prior to 2003, homosexuals were barred from civil service employment. In 2007, anal and oral sex was legalized among heterosexuals only. 

The current court cases are being monitored by international human rights agencies, hoping that s377a is lifted and civil guarantees are granted to LGBT individuals.



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