Featured News Lawyers fighting for 377A repeal: sexual orientation cannot be willfully changed

Lawyers fighting for 377A repeal: sexual orientation cannot be willfully changed

Six medical experts were called in to present evidence on the biological factors that influence sexual orientation

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Singapore—In the second legal challenge to Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalizes sex between males, lawyers who are arguing for the colonial-era law to be repealed say that sexual orientation is the result of environmental and genetic factors, and therefore cannot be willfully changed.

According to these lawyers, Section 377A is in violation of both Article 9 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, as well as Article 12, which guarantees equal protection before the law.

In a statement to the media, the legal team for Mr Ong said, “It is absurd, irrational and discriminatory to criminalise a person on the basis of his natural, unchangeable identity and for non-harmful private acts.

Of the three challenges to the law being presented this month, the first was heard last Wednesday, November 13, in a suit which had been filed by the former executive director of Oogachaga, Choong Chee Hong, (aka Bryan Chong). Oogachaga is a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) non-profit organisation.

The second challenge was heard in court on Monday, November 18. It was filed by disc jockey Johnson Ong Ming, who was represented by Eugene Thuraisingam, Suang Wijaya and Johannes Hadi of Eugene Thuraisingam LLP.

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Six medical experts were called to present evidence to support the lawyers’ claims. Three were called by Mr Ong’s team and another three by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), who is the respondent in all three legal challenges.

The Straits Times (ST) reports that Mr Ong’s team called British psychiatrist Dinesh Bhugra, a professor of mental health and diversity at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London; Dr Jacob Rajesh, a senior consultant psychiatrist at the Promises Clinic in Novena Medical Centre; and American public health and epidemiology professor Chris Beyrer of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The AGC called on the following: Dr Cai Yiming, an emeritus consultant in the Department of Developmental Psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health; retired geneticist John Tay Sin Hock, who was the former Head of Division of Human Genetics at the National University of Singapore; and Dr Derrick Heng Mok Kwee, group director of the Public Health Group in the Ministry of Health.

According to the experts, sexual orientation cannot be changed at will. Furthermore, biological factors including genetics and non-social environmental factors including exposure to varying amounts of hormones while in utero contribute to the sexual orientation of an individual.

Additionally, no credible scientific evidence that conversion or reparative therapies have been found to be effective or safe, said the lawyers.

Where the experts disagreed was in the matter of whether choice and social environmental factors such as culture have an effect on influencing sexual orientation.

The statement from the lawyers also said, “For the first time, there is expert evidence before the courts on the nature of sexual orientation. In the previous cases, the court was only asked to take judicial notice of scientific facts which required a different legal test.” 

Read also: Section 377A was originally meant to curb male prostitution, lawyers challenge provision

Section 377A was originally meant to curb male prostitution, lawyers challenge provision

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