Singapore court dismisses challenge to anti-gay law

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Singapore's High Court on Wednesday dismissed a constitutional challenge against an archaic law criminalising sex between men, the second such petition turned down this year.

In a written judgment, the court reiterated an earlier ruling that it was up to Parliament to repeal the provision in the penal code, known as Section 377A.

"Parliament has the mandate under our Constitution and system of law to make decisions on and surrounding controversial issues," Judge Quentin Loh said in his verdict on the challenge, launched by a man who was arrested after being caught with a male partner in a public toilet cubicle in 2010.

"Its choice in favour of one view in the spectrum cannot be said to be undeniably wrong," he said, noting that the legislature is free to amend laws to "reflect societal norms and values" if it feels public opinion on the matter has shifted.

"In such circumstances, I am unprepared to say that Parliament should defer to the views of the court on this issue," he added.

Judge Loh rejected a similar constitutional challenge by a gay couple in April, to the consternation of rights activists.

Section 377A dates back to British colonial rule in Singapore and carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for homosexual acts.

The law states: "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years."

While the provision has not been enforced actively by Singapore authorities against men who engage in consensual sex in private, it has become a lightning rod for activists pushing for social reform in the affluent nation.

Tan Eng Hong, 49, whose petition was rejected Wednesday -- said through his lawyer M. Ravi that he was studying the judgement before deciding on whether to take the case to the Court of Appeal, the highest judicial body.

The ruling comes amid increasing support of gay rights in the predominantly Buddhist and Taoist city-state.

In June, organisers said 21,000 people attended an annual event called Pink Dot which promotes freedom to love regardless of sexual orientation -- a nearly eightfold increase from the attendance at its inaugural 2009 staging.