This quote by Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli, delivered in Parliament on Nov 28 adequately sums up the Party’s approach when debating the repeal of Section 377A.
In fact, this approach is the Party’s guiding principle when it comes to debating many other contentious social issues as well: Our members field a diverse range of views across the spectrum but vote along party lines to move forward with legislation that benefit Singapore and Singaporeans.
Indeed, MP for Bukit Batok SMC Mr Murali Pillai said that Party members can express their views “clearly and honestly” even when the Party Whip is not lifted.
“While the Whip is not lifted for the People’s Action Party, it does not prevent any MP from my party [from speaking] his views..The Party Whip is basically a system to deal with voting. And that’s separate and distinct from clearly and honestly expressing our views.”
And what a range of views PAP MPs expressed during the debate.
Mr Murali expressed his support for both Bills, highlighting how he had been advocating for the repeal of Section 377A, as well a holistic review of its impact on important institutions such as marriage and family since 2018.
“The repeal is the correct thing to do. It reflects Singapore’s collective will towards equality as well as the values and realities of our times. We’ve also, at the same time, captured the wide agreement that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. It is an elegant accommodation in a uniquely Singapore way.”
Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) and Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) expressed their desire for the Government to assure protection for religious organisations to preach and practise their own faith with regard to marriage and homosexuality.
“Singaporeans must feel free and safe to practise their beliefs without fear of backlash, as long as their own actions do not cause harm or danger to others,” Mr Yam said.
“So what protections are there to ensure that businesses and other institutions such as religious organisations are freed from legal challenges regarding teachings and beliefs on marriage? For example, if a religious institution declines to conduct a ceremony for a transgender or same-sex couple, will they be subject to a lawsuit?”
Speaking in Malay, Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said that many of his residents and Malay-Muslim organisations were unsure of the future changes that the amendment and repeal would bring.
He stressed that it’s important for the Government to actively engage families and parents and provide them with avenues of counselling and parenting support, especially faith-based support.
In his speech, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) shared his “unapologetic belief in the traditional family form”.
Sharing that the majority of feedback from his constituents revolved anxiety about families, anxiety about the repeal, and a deeper anxiety about the future of families, he said that he supported the repeal and the constitutional amendment because it avoids the “abrupt and disruptive confrontation in the court of law” and the subsequent “unpredictable and sometimes uncontrollable social and political consequences”.
Similarly, bringing her 30-year experience as a mother and 16-year experience as an MP, Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) said that she wished to preserve the traditional definition of family and believed that the repeal and amendment will do just that.
However, she also urged against bullying and cancel culture, perpetuated against those in the community who do not share the same perspectives on homosexuality and marriage.
“This is a subject that matters to many regardless of whether we support the repeal or the retention of Section 377A. What we cannot allow is for any person, regardless of which side they stand, to be labelled, discriminated (against), or bullied.”
Continuing this line of thought, Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said that it’s important for Singaporeans to continue having open conversations about this difficult topic.
He suggested that schools be equipped to provide safe spaces for students to “engage in respectful conversations or debates with others who may hold contrary opinions”.
“Schools can help promote freedom of expression as well as inclusion and tolerance, and in doing so I believe they would encourage mutual understanding and acceptance. And in many ways, sensitive handling of the challenging issues would be a form of modelling of open discussion.”
Mr Henry Quek (Kebun Baru SMC) contributed to the debate by highlighting the views of Singaporean youths on the issue of Section 377A.
It is not surprising, he said, that many Singaporean youths are in favour of repealing Section 377A, because our schools have been teaching them the values of justice, empathy and kindness.
Mr Kwek iterated his desire for schools to be neutral grounds that “neither celebrate or ostracise you for being gay”.
“Our schools should not let gender become the defining attribute of who a person is. Because if this issue gets polarised, we will be robbing them of the opportunity to do an authentic self evaluation in their formative years of who they truly are.”
Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), in his Malay speech, shared his view that Singapore should take care not to be influenced by foreign elements, such as MNCs, that do not share our values.
Instead, we should define the values that we want in our society and instil these values in our own children, he explained.
At the same time, he urged Singaporeans to show religious values such as mercy, compassion and love to those who are in need or marginalised.
A wide range of views and issues articulated by PAP MPs, even as all will be voting in support of the repeal of Section 377A and the Constitutional amendment. MP for Jurong GRC Mr Xie Yao Quan put it most eloquently when he said:
“[We have] very different starting points…even amongst PAP MPs, representing various parts of our society, yet we have found mutual accommodation, we’ve found convergence in support of both Bills…by bringing all Singaporeans along on the way forward together in the national interest.”
Indeed, it is important for multiple views and perspectives to be aired in Parliament — even within the same party.
In his closing speech, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam (also MP for Nee Soon GRC), said that in our Westminster parliamentary system, parties must have a view on important issues that are presented before Parliament.
The PAP MPs have articulated these views fully, even though they need to take the Party’s position when voting so that decisions can be made in Parliament.
And that is how this Party is able to balance being accountable to different constituents and advancing our national interests.