Penal Code Section 377A

Singapore Infopedia


Penal Code Section 377A prohibited oral and anal sex between men. It was hotly debated between gay supporters, who wanted the discriminatory clause to be repealed, and their opponents, who supported its retention.1 Section 377A was challenged in court five times between 2010 and 2019. On 3 January 2023, the Singapore government repealed Section 377A.2

In November 2003, a police coast guard officer, Annis Abdullah, was convicted under Section 377 of the Penal Code for having oral sex with a teenage girl, although the act was consensual. The conviction generated much debate in Singapore about whether oral sex should continue to be considered an offence in modern times.The law in contention was the Penal Code of the Straits Settlements, which was enacted in 1871 during colonial administration. It mirrored the Indian Penal Code and was the primary criminal statute in Singapore.4

Because of the 2003 case, the Ministry of Home Affairs began a comprehensive review of the Penal Code. In September 2007, the ministry submitted to Parliament the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, which proposed 77 amended provisions and four repealed provisions.5

Retention of 377A in 2007
In 2007, the government reviewed the Penal Code and introduced the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, which proposed significant changes to the law.6 The topic that caught much attention involved Section 377: “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine” (Penal Code, 1985).7 This clause was repealed in the Penal Code (Amendment) Act in 2007, and a new Section 377, which criminalises sex with a human corpse, was instituted in its place.8

However Section 377A of the Penal Code was retained in that Penal Code review. The clause stated that “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 two years” (Penal Code, 1985).Whether the act was performed privately or publicly was not relevant in the eyes of the law.10

In the second reading in Parliament to amend the Penal Code on 22 October 2007, Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee, the Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, justified the retention of Section 377A, stating that Singapore was generally a conservative society and the majority still found homosexual behaviour unacceptable. Hence, the government retained Section 377A to maintain the country’s social cohesion and let the situation evolve on its own.11

The ministry’s proposal to keep the clause sparked strong comments and protests from gay supporters and attracted wide media coverage. Prior to the second reading of the Bill in Parliament, an open letter was sent to the prime minister, and an online petition site,, was set up. The site collected 2,341 signatories to appeal against the retention.12

The petition was presented to Parliament by nominated member of parliament (NMP) Siew Kum Hong ahead of Parliament’s sitting on 22 October 2007.13 The petition argued that the clause discriminated against homosexuals and bisexuals and was an “unconstitutional derogation” of the Constitution, in which all persons were equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law under Article 12(1).14 In his speech to Parliament, Siew argued that a private consensual act between adults should not be treated as a criminal act, as it did not harm others, regardless of one’s view on homosexuality.15 However, another member of parliament, Indranee Rajah, rebutted him on the interpretation of Article 12(1), stating that it was taken out of context.16

A group calling itself “the Majority” set up a website to collect signatures calling for the government to retain Section 377A. The group argued that repealing Section 377A would force homosexuality on “a conservative population that is not ready for homosexuality”, and could lead to calls for same-sex marriages and the trend of adoption by same-sex couples.17

Parliament eventually concluded that legislation had to reflect both societal norms and the views of the majority, and opted to keep Section 377A. Speaking on the issue, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed that the social norms in Singapore called for heterosexual and stable family units, but assured that the government acknowledged homosexuals’ contributions in society and would not actively enforce Section 377A. He said that both sides held strong views on the matter, and discussions would not bring the views of the two groups any closer; hence it was better for the issue to remain as status quo.18

Aftermath of 2007 Parliamentary Debate
A few days after the parliamentary debate, NMP Thio Li-Ann started receiving hate mails for her stand on homosexual issues. One of these was an email that was “full of vile and obscene invective”, which prompted her to make a police report.19 The email was written by poet and playwright Alfian Sa’at, who admitted that he wrote it in a fit of anger after thinking that Thio had made the police report that led to the cancellation of a National Day picnic organised by gay activists. Thio decided not to sue Alfian after he apologised to her.20 Shortly after the incident, she made a second police report, after receiving an anonymous letter threatening her and her family with bodily harm.21 

Siew was also targeted by some netizens who insinuated that he was promoting a homosexual lifestyle, taking sides when he should have remained neutral as an NMP.22

Constitutional challenges
In 2010 and 2012, two legal challenges were mounted against Section 377A by Tan Eng Hong, and gay couple Lim Meng Suang (Gary Lim) and Kenneth Chee Mun-Leon.23 In these cases, the High Court upheld 377A, and appeals were dismissed.24

After India struck down a law banning gay sex in September 2018, ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh encouraged the gay community to mount a similar legal challenge.25 Former Attorney-Generals Professor Walter Woon and V K Rajah suggested that it was not desirable for the government or Parliament to direct the AGC not to prosecute offences under 377A. In response to this, the AGC released a statement by Attorney-General Lucien Wong that the public prosecutor still has the discretion to determine whether to prosecute offences under 377A. Nevertheless, its position was aligned with the government’s position stated in 2007, that prosecution of an offensive act under 377A by two consenting adults in a private place would not be pursued.26

In 2019, three new court cases were filed separately by Tan Seng Kee (Roy Tan), Johnson Ong Ming (a.k.a. DJ Big Kid), and Choong Chee Hong (Bryan Choong), each arguing that Section 377A was inconsistent with different articles of the Constitution.27 On 30 March 2020, the three legal challenges were dismissed,28 and the appeals were dismissed on 28 February 2022. The court however noted that Attorney-General Wong’s 2018 statement made 377A “unenforceable in its entirety”, until the day the active attorney-general reasserts the right to enforce it.29 Hence  without a threat of prosecution, gay men did not have the legal standing to mount any constitutional challenge.30

Consultation and subsequent repeal
Following the February 2022 judgement, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam and Attorney-General Wong advised the government that in a future court challenge, 377A could be struck down as it breaches Article 12 of the Constitution (the Equal Protection Provision). The government began to engage the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, regular Singaporeans, and religious leaders on what should be done with the law, especially what a repeal of the law could lead to. These include the definition of marriage, school syllabi, public media content and socially acceptable behaviour.31

During the National Day Rally on 21 August 2022, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore would repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code. He acknowledged that it is unjustifiable to prosecute private sexual acts between consenting adults. However, PM Lee acknowledged that those with reservations towards the repeal wished to preserve the definition of marriage in society, defined as “a union between a man and a woman” in the Interpretation Act and the Women’s Charter.32 To prevent the definition of marriage from being challenged constitutionally in the courts, the government would also amend the Constitution.33

On 3 January 2023, Section 377A was repealed, and the Constitution of Singapore was amended to enshrine the definition of marriage as “a union between a man and a woman”, and this definition can only be amended by the legislature.34

9 Nov 2006: Ministry of Home Affairs releases public consultation paper on amendments to Penal Code.35
17 Sep 2007: First reading of the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng.36
22–23 Oct 2007: Second and third reading of the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill. Bill is passed without further amendments.37 
24 Sep 2010: Tan Eng Hong files a suit to challenge the constitutionality of Section 377A, after being charged under the same Section. Tan’s charge was substituted later, and the suit was struck out. Tan appealed the decision, which was overturned by the Court of Appeal.38
30 Nov 2012: Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee file a legal challenge on the constitutionality of Section 377A. The High Court dismisses the challenge and upholds 377A.39
29 Oct 2014: The High Court dismissed the appeals of Tan, Lim and Chee on their cases, upholding 377A.40
2 Oct 2018: The AGC releases statement that 377A will not be enforced for private acts.
2019: Three separate court cases were filed by Tan Seng Kee, Johnson Ong Ming, and Choong Chee Hong, challenging the constitutionality of Section 377A.41 These were dismissed in 2020, appealed against and dismissed yet again in February 2022.
21 Aug 2022: At the National Day Rally, PM Lee announces that Singapore will repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code. In addition, the Constitution will be amended to protect the definition of marriage from legal challenges in court.42
20 Oct 2022: First readings of the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill by Minister of Home Affairs, K Shanmugam (to repeal S377A), and of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No 3) Bill by Minister for Social and Family Development, Masagos Zulkifli Bin Masagos Mohamad (to preserve the definition of marriage).43
28–29 Nov 2022: Second and third readings of the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill and the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No 3) Bill. Both bills are passed without further amendments.44
3 Jan 2023: Section 377A is repealed, and the Constitution is amended.45

Lim Puay Ling and Kevin Seet

1. Selina Lum, “Law on ‘Unnatural’ Sex Acts to Be Repealed,” Straits Times, 9 November 2006, 3 (From NewspaperSG)
2. Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2022, Act 39/2022, Singapore Statutes Online.
3. “Mistake in Court: Girl Was a Minor: Policeman Jailed for Oral Sex,” Straits Times, 15 November 2003, 1; “Ex-Cop Appeals against Jail Term for Oral Sex,” Straits Times, 19 November 2003, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Chan Wing Cheong and Andrew Phang Boon Leong, “The Development of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice,” in Essays in Singapore Legal Historyed. Kevin Y. L. Tan (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic & the Singapore Academy of Law, 2005), 247–48. (Call no. RSING 349.5957 ESS)
5. Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2007, Act 38/2007, Singapore Statutes Online; Li Xueying, “On Homosexuality, Religious Offences and Marital Rape,” Straits Times, 9 November 2007, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007, Act 51/2007, Singapore Statutes Online.
7. Penal Code, Cap 224, Section 377, Statutes of the Republic of Singapore, rev. ed. 1985.
8. Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007, Act 51/2007.
9. Penal Code, Statutes of the Republic of Singapore.
10. Andy Ho, “Time to Put Straight Some Legal Quirks?” Straits Times, 27 October 2006, 29. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Loh Chee Kong, “A Code to Fit the Crime,” Today, 23 October 2007, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Ansley Ng, “A Rare Petition and a Spirited Debate,” Today, 23 October 2007, 1; Ansley Ng, “ vs,” Today, 19 October 2007, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Chua Hian How, “NMP to Submit Parliamentary Petition to Repeal Gay Sex Law,” Straits Times, 12 October 2007, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Parliament of Singapore, Petition, vol. 83 of Official Reports - Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), 22 October 2007, col. 2121.
15. Ng, “Rare Petition and a Spirited Debate.” 
16. Parliament of Singapore, Petition, col. 2242.
17. Ng, “ vs” 
18. Lee Hsien Loong, “Why We Should Leave Section 377A Alone: PM,” Straits Times, 24 August 2007, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Chong Chee Kin, “Police Question Poet over E-mail to NMP,” Straits Times, 30 October 2007, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Li Xue Ying, “Poet Sends ‘Civil’ E-mail Apology So NMP Drops Plan to Sue Him,” Straits Times, 1 November 2007, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Li Xue Ying, “NMP Thio Files 2nd Police Report after Getting Threat,” Straits Times, 8 November 2007, 53. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Chia Sue-Ann, “NMP Candidates Attacked Online,” Straits Times, 15 May 2009, 41. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Amir Hussain, “377A in the Spotlight Again,” Today, 22 August 2012, 1; Tessa Wong, “Two Launch Fresh Challenge to Anti-gay Law,” Straits Times, 1 December 2012, 23; Leonard Lim, “Challenge to Gay-Sex Law Heard in Chambers,” Straits Times, 15 February 2013, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Amanda Lee, “High Court Reserves Judgement on 377A Challenge,” Today, 7 March 2013, 25; Tessa Wong, “Court Dismisses Challenge to Gay-sex Law,” Straits Times, 10 April 2013, 2-3; Amanda Lee, “High Court Again Upholds Law against Sex between Gays,” Today, 3 October 2013, 8; Selina Lum, “Court Upholds Law Banning Gay Sex,” Straits Times, 30 October 2014, 2–3 (From NewspaperSG)
25. Yasmine Yahya, “Tommy Koh's Facebook Comment Reignites Debate on Singapore's Gay Sex Law,” Straits Times, 8 September 2018. (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website)
26. Jonathan Wong, “Government Has Not Curbed Public Prosecutor’s Discretion for Section 377A: A-G Lucien Wong,” Straits Times, 2 October 2018 (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website); Lucien Wong, “Government Has Not Removed or Restricted Prosecutorial Discretion for Section 377A, Public Prosecutor Retains Full Prosecutorial Discretion,” press release, 2 October 2018,
27. Rei Kurohi, “Three Court Challenges against Section 377A to Be Heard in November,” Straits Times, 9 October 2019. (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website)
28. Rei Kurohi, “High Court Dismisses Challenges against Law That Criminalises Sex between Men,” Straits Times, 31 March 2020. (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website)
29. Tan Seng Kee v Attorney-General and Other Appeals, SGCA 16 (2022), para 149.
30. Selina Lum, “Court of Appeal Rules Section 377a Stays But Cannot Be Used to Prosecute Men for Having Gay Sex,” Straits Times, 28 February 2022. (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website)  
31. Tham Yuen-C, “NDR 2022: Govt Will Repeal Section 377A, but Also Amend Constitution to Protect Marriage from Legal Challenges,” Straits Times, 21 August 2022. (From Newslink via NLB’s eResources website)
32. Constitution (Amendment) Act 2022, Act 40/2022, Singapore Statutes Online.
33. Tham Yuen-C, “NDR 2022.”
34. Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2022; Constitution (Amendment) Act 2022, Act 40/2022, Singapore Statutes Online.
35. Bertha Henson, “Sweeping Changes to Penal Code Proposed,” Straits Times, 9 November 2006, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Parliament of Singapore, Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, vol. 83 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 17 September 2007, col. 1522.
37. Parliament of Singapore, Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, vol. 83 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 22 October 2007, col. 2175; Parliament of Singapore, Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, vol. 83 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 23 October 2007, col. 2445.
38. Tan Eng Hong v Attorney-General, SGCA 45 (2012).
39. Lum, “Court Upholds Law Banning Gay Sex.”
40. High Court of Singapore, Lim Meng Suang and Another v Attorney-General, SGHC 73 (2013)
41. Tan Seng Kee v Attorney-General and Other Appeals, SGCA 16 (2022).
42. Tham Yuen-C, “NDR 2022.”
43. Parliament of Singapore, Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, vol. 95 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 20 October 2022; Parliament of Singapore, Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, vol. 95 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 20 October 2022;
44. Parliament of Singapore, Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, vol. 95 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 29 November 2022; Parliament of Singapore, Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, vol. 95 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 29 November 2022;
45. Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2022; Constitution (Amendment) Act 2022.

The information in this article is valid as of September 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.




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