Definition of marriage as between man and woman will be protected, even as 377A is repealed: PM Lee at National Day Rally
Salt&Light // August 21, 2022, 8:54 pm
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking at the National Day Rally, 21 August 2022.
The Government will amend the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage in the Women’s Charter – as between men and women – even as it moves to repeal Section 377A, the law that criminalises sex between men, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in his annual National Day Rally speech on Sunday (21 August).
“We believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Children should be born and raised within such families. The traditional family should form the basic building blocks of our society,” he told the audience at ITE College Central.
“Most Singaporeans would like to keep our society like this. And this is the Government’s position too. We have upheld and reinforced the importance of families through many national policies, and we will continue to do so.”
He called Section 377A a law which, when introduced by the British colonial government in the 1930s, reflected the moral attitudes and social norms that prevailed back then.
“We believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. This is the Government’s position, too.”
At the Rally, he recounted how in 2007, he defended the need for a state of compromise, in which Section 377A remained on the books but would not be enforced.
“Now, 15 years later, attitudes have shifted appreciably, while we remain a broadly conservative society. It is timely to ask again the fundamental question: Should sex between men in private be a criminal offence?”
“Singaporeans still have differing views on whether homosexuality is right or wrong, but most people accept that a person’s sexual orientation and behaviour is a private and personal matter, and that sex between men should not be a criminal offence.
“For these reasons, the Government will repeal Section 377A and decriminalise sex between men. I believe this is the right thing to do and is something that most Singaporeans will now accept.”
“This will bring the law into line with current social mores and provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.”
Definition of marriage will be protected
However, safeguards will be put into place to ensure this move to repeal will not lead to consequences unwanted to the majority of society, he said.
“Most Singaporeans do not want the repeal to trigger a drastic shift in our societal normals across the board,” he said, such as what is taught about marriage in schools, or what is shown on the media. “Even many Singaporeans who support the repeal of 377A want to maintain our current family and social norms.”
The Government understands these concerns, he said.
“We will maintain our current family-oriented approach and the prevailing norms and values of Singapore society.”
“We too do not want the repeal to trigger wholesale changes in our society. We will maintain our current family-oriented approach and the prevailing norms and values of Singapore society.
“Hence, even as we repeal 377A, we will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage.”
Mr Lee noted that the current definition of marriage can be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds. Singapore must avoid this, as it would “highlight differences, inflame tensions, and polarise society”.
“I’m convinced this would be bad for Singapore,” he said.
“I do not think, in Singapore, that the Courts are the right forum to decide such issues. Judges and courts do not have the expertise nor the mandate to settle political questions or to rule on social norms.
“We will therefore protect the definition of marriage from being challenged legally in the courts.”
A full debate will be held when the legislation is brought to Parliament, he said.
“A political accommodation”
The Prime Minister called the move to repeal 377A while protecting the definition of marriage “a political accommodation”, necessary to balance diverse and opposed views by different groups in Singapore.
The definition of marriage as between a man and a woman is what most Singaporeans still want, he reiterated, adding that it is not just religious groups who hold views on heterosexual marriage, but also non-religious people.
“If one side pushes too hard, the other side will push back even harder,” he said, pointing to how this has led to cultural wars and cancel culture in other nations.
“There are some signs that this is starting to happen here too. I say, let us not go in this direction. All groups should exercise restraint because that’s the only way we can move forward as one nation together.”
TIMELINE: CHALLENGES TO SECTION 377A IN 2022
Mr Lee’s comments at the Rally capped a series of statements by politicians suggesting the Government is looking for the “best way forward” on Section 377A this year.
Pro-family advocates have said that any such move would be unwise “unless and until” safeguards are in place for the definition of marriage, freedom of practice of religion, and other areas which may be impacted.
- 28 February: Court of Appeals dismisses challenges to 377A
- 3 March: Government is considering the “best way forward” on 377A, says Law & Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam
- 23 March: REACH survey on LGBTQ issues gets more than 30,000 responses
- 18 June: PAP and Opposition MPs attend Pink Dot at Hong Lim Park
- 29 June: Attitudes towards 377A shifting, but “significant proportion” of Singaporeans do not want a repeal, Mr Shanmugam tells BBC’s Stephen Sackur
- 23 July: Organisers of the “Protect Singapore Townhall” urge against a repeal of 377A “unless and until” there are safeguards for marriage and families, including the possible enshrining of marriage as between man and woman in the Constitution
- 31 July: Roman Catholic Archdiocese echoes the call to define heterosexual marriage in the Constitution
- 1 August: “No immediate plans” for LGBTQ community to mount legal challenge to redefine marriage
- 4 August: MFA reminds foreign businesses to be careful about advocating LGBTQ issues in Singapore
- 15 August: Review of Section 377A must take into account strong views on marriage, family: DPM Lawrence Wong
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