Singapore’s High Court has r­ejected a petition to repeal an archaic law criminalising sex between men.

AFP reports the court, which is part of the Supreme Court, said it was up to parliament to repeal a provision in the penal code known as Section 377A – the legality of which has been questioned by a gay couple.

On Tuesday, Judge Quentin Loh said: “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 added: “To my mind, defining moral issues need time to evolve and are best left to the legislature to resolve.”

LGBT campaigners have expressed their disappointment at the decision.

“Once again, modern Singapore falls down when it comes to basic rights. There is no place for this law in a modern thriving country like Singapore,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told AFP.

“Rather than gazing pensively at the role of the judiciary in defining moral issues, the judge should have focused on the central issue of whether Section 377A is discriminatory or not, instead of kicking it back to parliament,” he added.

The law dates back to British colonial rule in Singapore and carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for homosexual acts.

While the provision has not been enforced actively by Singapore authorities against men who engage in consensual sex in private, it has become a lightning rod for activists pushing for social reform.

The two male partners who launched the petition – graphic designers Gary Lim, 44, and Kenneth Chee, 37 – now have the option to take the case to the Court of Appeal, the highest judicial body in Singapore.

A second petition questioning the constitutionality of the provision is still pending, but activists are not optimistic.

Jean Chong, co-founder of lesbian activist group Sayoni, said she was “disappointed and outraged” by the court’s decision.

Oral and anal sex between consenting heterosexual women and lesbians were sanctioned after the penal code was reviewed in 2007, however, the ban remains in place for men who have sex with men.