Singapore’s Section 377A: PM Lee’s designated successor Lawrence Wong rules out altering definition of marriage during his tenure
- As Singapore moves to repeal a colonial-era law that bans gay sex, officials have emphasised that national policies would continue viewing man-woman marriage as the basic building block of society
- The government’s decision on the matter has been hailed as watershed moment for gay rights for the city state
Gay rights activists voiced cautious optimism over the development, while some religious conservatives expressed concern that it would lead to the eventual recognition of same-sex marriage.
“This will not happen under the watch of the current prime minister, and it will not happen under my watch – if the PAP were to win the next general election,” Wong said in remarks to local media, according to a transcript.
Lee on Sunday night announced the government would repeal S377A while also amending the constitution to prevent legal challenges to the current definition of marriage.
Singapore law currently defines marriage as between one man and woman.
The government’s decision on the matter has been hailed as a watershed moment for gay rights in the city state, amid its rise as the go-to Asian business and travel hub in the post-pandemic era.
Lee in his speech had said the dual approach of repealing the law and protecting the definition of marriage was a “political accommodation” on the part of the government, given the range of views among citizens about the issue.
Lee had noted in his speech that various national policies – including on public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards and film classification – depended on the existing definition of marriage.
“The government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage, nor these policies,” Lee had said. He did not provide details on when the repeal of S377A or the constitutional amendment would be debated in parliament.
In separate statements on Monday, the education and information ministries said their respective policies would remain unchanged after S377A was scrapped.
The Ministry of Communications and Information said the planned repeal of the colonial-era law “does not mean that we are changing the tone of society” and would not alter its current media content regulatory approach. “We will continue to take reference from prevailing norms. LGBT media content will continue to warrant higher age ratings,” it said.
The Ministry of Education said its policies and school curriculum would be based on prevailing values and norms that included viewing “the family as the cornerstone of our social fabric, and marriage between a man and a woman”.
To that end, sexuality education would remain secular and sensitive to the multiracial and multi-religious make-up of society, it added.
The ministry also called for foreign institutions and foreigners to respect Singapore’s family and social norms and not use education institutions as “platforms for their own agendas”.
“Our schools and institutions of higher learning must remain safe spaces for the pursuit of knowledge, and not become places for advocacy or contestation on socially divisive issues,” it said.
Elsewhere, the home affairs and law minister K. Shanmugam told local media that the mooted constitutional amendment would safeguard the existing definition of marriage from legal challenges.
It would state that only Parliament had the right to define marriage in the way it is currently defined in the Women’s Charter.
The proposed change would leave open the possibility for Parliament to change the definition of marriage through a simple majority, The Straits Times reported Shanmugam as saying. The minister noted that the proposed changes would not amount to defining marriage in the constitution.
Among the country’s key religious groups, the Catholic Church has been vocal about such constitutional entrenchment. After Lee’s Sunday speech, the church said it was necessary that the definition of marriage be enshrined and stated in the constitution before Section 377A was struck off.
“Otherwise, we will be taking a slippery road of no return, weakening the fabric of a strong society which is founded on the bedrock of holistic families and marriages,” it said.
The National Council of Churches of Singapore, which represents some 200 churches, on Sunday said it would “acquiesce in the government’s decision to repeal S377A”.
But it added that it was concerned the repeal would lead to a “beginning and intensification of the contention and advocacy for domestic partnership arrangements or civil unions to be instituted and legalised” in Singapore.
A 2020 census showed that among Singapore residents aged 15 and above, 31.1 per cent identify themselves as Buddhist, 18.9 per cent identified as Christian, 15.6 per cent as Muslim, 8.8 per cent as Taoist, and 5 per cent as Hindu. Of the Christians, 36 per cent – or 6.7 per cent of the resident population – identify as Catholic.