Gay rights in Singapore took a blow as the Singapore high court decided to uphold a colonial-era law that criminalizes sex between two men.

According to Reuters, three appeals were filed challenging the constitutionality of Section 377A. The law says that a man found to have committed an act of “gross indecency” with another man could be sent to prison for up to two years. The high court ended up dismissing all three appeals.

In a case summary published by the court, Judge See Kee Oon said that just because the law was not being enforced in the city-state did not mean it is redundant.

The statement was probably in reference to the Attorney General’s previous comment that enforcing the law against gay sex and prosecuting people with it would not be in the public interest.

An attempt to repeal the law was first made in 2014 but it did not succeed. The repeal of a similar law in India back in 2018 reinvigorated activists to try again, with Law Minister K. Shanmugam remarking that laws should keep up with changes in society. Polling in Singapore has also shown public attitudes towards homosexuals changing for the better.

That said, Singapore is still a socially conservative country, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong even remarking that Singapore “is not that liberal” when it comes to matters like homosexuality.

Human Dignity Trust director, Téa Braun, criticized the decision, saying that it would resonate with even more conservative countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Human Dignity Trust is a rights group based in London.

“In declining to strike out this archaic and discriminatory law, the court has reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are effectively unapprehended criminals,” Braun said.

This Singapore decision is another gay rights overall in Asia. In October of last year, a Hong Kong court turned down marriage equality, saying that the court deciding on it would be “beyond the proper scope of the functions and powers of the court to change a social policy on a fundamental issue.”

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