Two new bills were introduced in Parliament today (Oct 20) for their First Reading, paving the way for decriminalisation of sex between men and the amendment of the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage in Singapore.
The two bills are the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill and the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill.
Why is this government repealing Section 377A now?
There are two reasons.
First, attitudes towards homosexuality have shifted appreciably. Gay people are now better accepted in Singapore especially among the young.
Most people accept that a person’s sexual orientation and behaviour is a private matter, and that sex between men should not be a criminal offence.
From the national point of view, sex between consenting adults does not raise any law-and-order issues.
Second, based on the most recent Court of Appeal decision on Section 377A, there is a significant risk of Section 377A being struck down by the Courts in a future challenge, on the grounds that it breaches the equal protection clause in Article 12 of the Constitution.
It would be unwise and irresponsible for Parliament to ignore this risk and do nothing.
What about the definition of marriage?
However, most Singaporeans still want to maintain current family and social norms, where marriage is between a man and a woman, and children are brought up in such a family structure.
Many of Singapore’s policies, for instance those relating to housing, adoption, and education, are based on this definition of marriage.
Hence, the government will amend the Constitution to prevent marriage and related laws and policies that are based on the heterosexual definition of marriage from being challenged in Court.
The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Bill will introduce a new clause, called Article 156 (Institution of Marriage) into the Constitution.
The bill, however, does not codify or enshrine the definition of marriage (i.e. as between a man and a woman) into the Constitution.
Instead, Article 156 (Institution of Marriage) clarifies that Parliament has powers to make laws to define, regulate, protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote the institution of marriage.
It also provides that the government and public authorities may, in the exercise of their functions, uphold the institution of marriage, for instance, in public housing policies and financial benefits for married couples, as well as education and media policies that promote and safeguard the institution of marriage.
Article 156 also protects laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, from being invalidated under Part 4 of the Constitution (Fundamental Liberties). For example, these laws cannot be found unconstitutional by the Courts.
Both bills will be debated in Parliament on Nov 28.
Cover photo credits: Drew Coffman on Unsplash, Parliament of Singapore