Veteran Singapore diplomat Tommy Koh calls for gay community to challenge sex ban

Veteran Singapore diplomat Tommy Koh calls for gay community to challenge sex ban

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Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh. (Photo: MFA)

SINGAPORE: A veteran Singapore diplomat on Thursday (Sep 6) called for Singapore's gay community to challenge a law that bans gay sex in the country, following India's scrapping of the same British colonial-era legislation.

Tommy Koh, who is Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made the comments in response to a Facebook post by a senior Singapore-based academic on India's landmark ruling on Thursday.

Simon Chesterman, dean of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law, shared a New York Times story on the ruling, congratulating a former classmate and others on the change.

"I would encourage our gay community to bring a class action to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A," Professor Koh wrote.

Tommy Koh 377A

Previous legal challenges in 2014 on the constitutionality of the law failed. Reminded of this by another Facebook user, Prof Koh said from his verified account: "Try again".

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has previously said that most Singaporeans would want to keep the statute and that Singapore society "is not that liberal on these matters".

Under section 377A of Singapore's Penal Code, a man found to have committed an act of "gross indecency" with another man could be jailed for up to two years, although prosecutions are rare. The law does not apply to homosexual acts between women.

Prof Koh's position on the matter was supported by the Chief of Government Communications Janadas Devan. 

Writing in his personal capacity on his Facebook page, Mr Devan said: "Speaking personally, I support Tommy’s position. 377A is a bad law; it is bad law. 

"Sooner or later, it will go. Pray sooner rather than later," added Mr Devan, who is also director of the Institute of Policy Studies. 

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, meanwhile, said that laws will have to keep pace with changes in societal views and it is up to Singapore's society to decide which direction it wants to take on the gay sex legislation.

He noted that while there is a growing minority who want 377A to be repealed, Singaporeans remain "deeply split" on the matter.

Source: Reuters/rw/gs(ra)