Singapore’s highest court has ruled that homosexuality must remain a crime in the country, following a challenge to the country’s penal code.

Lim Meng Suang and Kenneth Chee Mun-Leon, a gay couple, brought a case against Section 377A of the Penal Code in 2012, arguing that the provision, which outlaws gay sex, infringed on their constitutional rights to equality before the law and their right to personal liberty. After initial losses at the High Court of Singapore, they appealed and their case was heard along with a fellow appellant three months ago.

Private same-sex sexual activity between adults has been illegal in Singapore since 1938, with the Penal Code that the British exported.

In the written ruling that was handed down today, the judges said: ‘While we understand the deeply-held personal feelings of the appellants, there is nothing that this court can do to assist them. Their remedy lies, if at all, in the legislative sphere.’

Jonathan Cooper, Chief Executive of the London-based Human Dignity Trust, which provided technical legal assistance to support the challenge, said: ‘This decision means that every gay man living in Singapore remains an unapprehended criminal.

The criminalisation of homosexuality does not only affect men. The culture of shame and homophobia it fosters forms a shadow of oppression over Singapore’s entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.’

The judgment is final, and there is no recourse to human rights courts, unlike in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg forced a change to a similar law in Northern Ireland in 1981, after an appeal to the UK’s highest court failed.

‘We must now look to the Singaporean Government,’ said Cooper, ‘where strong leadership and progressive legislative change is required to pave the only path forward for LGBTI people.’

He pointed out the risks to the government from the international business community, whose gay employees are currently at risk of prosecution simply for being who they are. ‘Employers with a commitment to equality and diversity face a difficult dilemma,’ he said.