Court challenge filed on 377A arguing that gay sex law ‘violates human dignity’

Court challenge filed on 377A arguing that gay sex law ‘violates human dignity’

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The crowd at Hong Lim Park for a Pink Dot event. (Photo: Monica Kotwani)

SINGAPORE: A man has filed a court challenge against Singapore's gay sex law, saying that it is inconsistent with parts of the Constitution.

Mr Johnson Ong Ming, a 43-year-old disc jockey and producer, filed the case on Monday (Sep 10). According to court papers, the case argues that Section 377A of the Penal Code is inconsistent with three articles in the Constitution concerning liberty of a person and equal protection.

Under 377A, any male person who commits or tries to get another male person to commit "any act of gross indecency with another male person", whether in public or private, can be jailed for up to two years.

The first of three articles in the Constitution that Mr Ong refers to says that "no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law". 

The other two articles state that "all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law", and "there shall be no discrimination against citizens of Singapore on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law". 

Mr Ong, who also owns a digital marketing agency, told Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday that he chose to mount the court challenge as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) groups are "not allowed to organise" and "don't see ourselves represented positively on mainstream media, if at all".

"Without access to help and resources, navigating through life is a lonely and often stressful process for every LGBT Singaporean," he said. 

"Most importantly, I am not a criminal and I do not want to go through life being branded as one by my own country. It takes a psychological toll on you going through life thinking you are less than everyone else."

READ: Singapore society has to decide which direction it wants to take on laws against gay sex, says Shanmugam

Mr Ong will be represented by lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, who will contend that Section 377A is "accordingly void" as it is inconsistent with the Constitution.

In response to queries by Channel NewsAsia, Mr Thuraisingam’s law firm said it will argue that Section 377A “violates human dignity”.

As sexual orientation is “unchangeable or suppressible at unacceptable personal cost”, criminalising its manifestation is “absurd” and “arbitrary”, Mr Thuraisingam will contend.

He will provide expert evidence to prove his points, and note that “an unusually large number of legal developments in various jurisdictions have occurred in a short span of time” since 2014, when the last legal challenge against 377A was mounted in Singapore.

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

Mr Ong's court challenge comes a few days after India ruled to decriminalise consensual gay sex in the country, a move that sparked discussion in the local community on repealing Section 377A.

Veteran Singapore diplomat Tommy Koh called for Singapore's gay community to challenge 377A last week.

The ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made the comments in response to a Facebook post on India's landmark ruling. 

Legal challenges against the law, in 2014, had failed, but Professor Koh said: "Try again."

Chief of Government Communications Janadas Devan also wrote on his Facebook page that he personally supports Prof Koh's position.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had said it is up to Singapore's society to decide which direction it wants to take on gay sex legislation.

Mr Ong, who has been in a relationship for more than a year, said he was energised by India's ruling and Prof Koh's statement.

He added that a successful court challenge would be "a monumental moment for not just the LGBTQ community but for all Singaporeans because gay rights, like women’s rights, like any subjugated minority rights, are human rights".

A pre-trial conference for Mr Ong's case will be heard on Sep 25.

Source: CNA/ll(cy)

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