The amendment to Singapore’s Constitution to grant Parliament the power to define marriage allows Singapore to continue with its pro-family family policies, said Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli in Parliament today (Nov 28).
It is a proactive step on the part of the PAP Government to safeguard the institution of marriage and related laws and policies from challenges in court which have the potential to destabilise Singapore society overnight.
“When the Courts decide, things change overnight, with drastic social repercussions that paralyse society,” explained Minister Masagos.
It is also the responsible thing to do now, even though there are other more pressing matters — like cost-of-living issues.
“We acknowledge that there are indeed other issues of concern to Singaporeans, such as cost of living. To use that as a reason for inaction might be politically expedient but it would not be the right or responsible thing to do,” he added.
Necessary and right thing to do
“We have assessed that there is a significant risk to our laws being struck down. We cannot just ignore the legal risk. This amendment is necessary, and it’s the right thing to deal with it now and not delay. We have the mandate and the responsibility to govern and we must put forward what we think is best for Singapore and Singaporeans. This includes making changes in a calibrated careful manner.”
In his speech, Minister Masagos explained why it would not be responsible of the PAP Government to leave this controversial social issue to the Courts to grapple with.
“The role of the Courts is to interpret and apply the law. It is not their constitutional function to settle political questions or rule on social norms and values. It is not their function to engage in the political, social, ethical, and other dimensions of the issues.”
In addition, the nature of court processes is too adversarial and not suited to accommodate the nuances and perspectives of different voices when it comes to a controversial issue like Section 377A.
“This bill is what a responsible government carrying out its duty to the people of Singapore would introduce. It allows the political process to balance different interests and perspectives and does not pass the buck to the Courts to rule on social issues which are best dealt with in Parliament.”
How democracy works
As a responsible government, the PAP government is also choosing not to enshrine the definition of marriage in the Constitution directly.
“The Government has to govern with principle,” said Masagos.
“Our view is that elevating marriage to the same level as fundamental rights in the Constitution would not be appropriate.”
Elevating marriage to the same level as other fundamental rights in Singapore would “fundamentally change the whole complexion and schema of the Constitution”, the minister said, adding that several principles that are important to Singapore, like National Service and home ownership are not enshrined in the Constitution.
“Importantly, this Government will not use our current super-majority in Parliament to tie the hands of the future generations.”
The definition of marriage can be amended by future elected governments by a simple majority if they choose to do so.
That is how democracy works, the Minister said.
The PAP Government’s decision on this matter reflects Singapore’s secular yet multi-religious and multi-racial society.
In his speech, Minister Masagos urged Singaporeans to uphold our harmony in diversity because it is a key part of our Singaporean identity.
“We have been able to live together peacefully because we learned to understand, go beyond our own perspectives, and graciously accommodate one another. This has been the Singapore way because we recognise what is best for our society.”