In a blow for Singapore’s gay community, the city-state’s High Court has refused to repeal the criminalisation of consensual sex between men, saying the move should be left up to parliament.

The court had been asked to overturn Section 377A of the penal code by gay couple Gary Lim (44), and Kenneth Chee (37).

The law, which is rarely enforced, dates back to the British colonial era and bars acts “of gross indecency” between men, with penalties of up to two years in prison.

In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Quentin Loh said that, “The issue in the present case no doubt is challenging and important, but it is not one which, in my view, justifies heavy-handed judicial intervention ahead of democratic change.”

He argued that, “To my mind, defining moral issues need time to evolve and are best left to the legislature to resolve”.

Local LGBT rights groups reacted with disappointment. The Pink Dot organisation said that the ruling was “regrettable” and that the High Court had “missed a golden opportunity to encourage inclusiveness and celebrate diversity amongst Singaporeans”.

Lim and Chee responded in a statement that they were “disappointed that the High Court ruled against us and upheld Section 377A. Having been together for 15 years, it is disheartening that we are criminals in the eyes of the law because of a segment of society that will not live and let live, but insist on pushing their version of religion and morality on us.

“We believe that most Singaporeans do not believe that gay people should be jailed for something they can’t change, and we believe that an equal and fair Singapore is worth striving for. We have received many supportive messages since this began, and we ask that people continue to come together as we work towards a Singapore that everyone can truly call home,” the couple added.

The men now have the option of taking their effort to repeal the law to the Court of Appeal. Section 377A was last voted on and retained by parliament in 2007.

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