Strategic litigation in the “soft-authoritarian” state of Singapore: Attempts to decriminalize sodomy from 2010-2020




Strategic Litigation, anti-sodomy laws, LGBT, human rights, Litigio estratégico, leyes contra la sodomía, derechos humanos


From 2010 to 2020, several efforts to decriminalize sodomy have taken place in Singaporean courts. Although these efforts have been largely unsuccessful, the cases have highlighted how courts can serve as a space to push for rights in a city-state that some have labelled “soft-authoritarian”—a state with democratic institutions in place, but with an under-developed set of democratic ideals and practices. This article argues that strategic litigation to decriminalize sodomy is forcing institutions in Singapore to evolve, become more democratic and responsive to a rising cultural backlash particularly with regards to sexuality. This article will examine some of the incremental changes that have come about due to the legal challenges, such as the strengthening of the court, the modification of laws to protect minorities, and the growth and diversification of civil society.

Entre 2010 y 2020, los tribunales de Singapur han intentado despenalizar la sodomía en varias ocasiones. Aunque estos esfuerzos han sido en gran medida infructuosos, los casos han puesto de relieve cómo los tribunales pueden servir como un espacio para presionar por los derechos en una ciudad-estado que algunos han etiquetado como “autoritario blando” –un estado con instituciones democráticas, pero con un conjunto subdesarrollado de ideales y prácticas democráticas. Este artículo sostiene que el litigio estratégico para despenalizar la sodomía está obligando a las instituciones de Singapur a evolucionar, a ser más democráticas y a responder a una creciente reacción cultural, especialmente en lo que respecta a la sexualidad. Este artículo examinará algunos de los cambios graduales que se han producido debido a los desafíos legales, como el fortalecimiento de los tribunales, la modificación de las leyes para proteger a las minorías y el crecimiento y la diversificación de la sociedad civil.


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Author Biography

George B. Radics, National University of Singapore

George B. Radics, National University of Singapore, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, 3 Arts Link, AS1 04/28, Singapore 117573, email address:, Dr. George Radics currently teaches courses on Law and Society, Selected Topics in Law and Justice, Social Thought and Social Theory, and Sociology of Emotions. He holds a joint appointment with NUS College and is the Convenor of the Global Studies Programme (2023-2025).


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How to Cite

Radics, G. (2024) “Strategic litigation in the ‘soft-authoritarian’ state of Singapore: Attempts to decriminalize sodomy from 2010-2020”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 14(1), pp. 145–165. doi: 10.35295/osls.iisl.1698.