Singapore needs to stay united, said MP Christopher de Souza in Parliament during the debate on the repeal of Section 377A on Nov 28.
Parliamentarians were debating on the Amendment to the Constitution in Article 156 which strengthens policies that protect marriage and families, and the removal of S377A from the Penal Code.
“Do we wait or do we move first by shouldering the legislative responsibility of making hard decisions and deciding on what needs to be protected? It is clear in my mind that we must do the latter,” he said.
The importance of unity
Mr de Souza, who is also Deputy Speaker, outlined key reasons for needing a united Singapore, highlighting that unity has been “a powerful force in modern Singapore’s unprecedented history”.
“One, there are people in our society who hold strong views on these issues,” he said.
“Therefore, there is a potential here for Singapore to be torn apart by discord.”
Second, it allows Singaporeans to hold peaceful discussions and debates on issues pertaining to S377A.
“My hope is that Singaporeans can discuss our views on these issues peacefully. When we disagree, let us express such disagreement respectfully and politely,” said the Deputy Speaker.
“What we are doing today in this House is to entrench what we seek to protect, and remove a law that has a significant risk of being struck down.”
Deputy Speaker de Souza also highlighted Parliament as the place for dealing with difficult issues like S377A.
“Three, by choosing to deal with this in Parliament, we are taking a deliberate and considered approach. Parliament, being made up of elected Members, has the requisite mandate to deal with these issues,” he said.
“And Parliament can do so with dexterity. No other institution can carry through such a legislative manoeuvre. It is hoped that the choice of deploying Parliament to deal with this issue is the best path for unity for our society. Unity — it is very important.”
Safeguarding the institution of marriage
While the definition of marriage is not enshrined in the Constitution directly, constitutional amendments are being introduced in a new Article 156 in Part 13 of the Constitution and they allow the Government of the day to define marriage by way of a simple majority.
Clause 2 and 3 of Article 156 states:
(2) Subject to any written law, the Government and any public authority may, in the exercise of their executive authority, protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote the institution of marriage.
(3) Nothing in Part 4 invalidates a law enacted before, on or after the date of commencement of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No. 3) Act 2022 by reason that the law
(a) defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman; or
(b) is based on such a definition of marriage.
Clause 2 means that the Government may protect, safeguard, foster and promote the institution of marriage through policies.
These include public housing, education, adoption regulations, advertising standards and film classifications.
“As a legislator, I see this inclusion and amendment to the Constitution as a deliberate and positive step. By making this amendment to the Constitution, it means that we are also protecting all our social policies that flow from this definition,” he said.
Housing policies, too, will prioritise education and grants for heterosexual married couples, added the Deputy Speaker.
Concurrently, schools should affirm heterosexual marriages as the norm, and as the bedrock of family.
“There is no room to argue that because Section 377A is being repealed, that this somehow provides a gateway or a license for teachers to promote or normalise homosexuality in schools in Singapore. Their repeal does not provide such a licence,” he stated.
High age ratings also will apply to all media containing homosexual content; library books for children should not have content depicting or affirming homosexual family or relationship units.
And as for adoption, a couple in a civil union recognised overseas cannot adopt under Singapore’s law.
“For the complete avoidance of doubt, civil unions and civil partnerships are not recognised in Singapore,” said the Deputy Speaker.
Clause 3 states that the only form of marriage that is recognised in Singapore is the union between one man and one woman.
A domestic debate for a domestic issue
Deputy Speaker de Souza noted how both sides of the S377A issue “have the right to hold these views”.
But he warned against foreign interference on this matter.
“What we are debating today in this House on Singapore soil is squarely a domestic issue,” he said.
“Other countries can choose how they want to shape their societies. But other countries should not impose their choices on us. No matter how well-meaning they perceive themselves to be.
“Speaking plainly, let us guard against covert and overt foreign influence in our domestic affairs,” he warned.
So, Singaporeans: stay united.