Society’s cornerstones remain secure post-S377A: Masagos

It’s been a long climb towards Section 377A’s repeal. A necessary duty for Singapore, considering that the Courts can someday rule it unconstitutional, and open the gate for bad actors on each side of the repeal to destabilise Singapore through judiciary-based activism.

The repeal, however, keeps the cornerstones and the bedrock of Singapore’s society secure.

What exactly happens now, though? What’s changed. What hasn’t?

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli provided answers to Parliamentarians’ questions during his round-up speech in Parliament Tuesday evening (Nov 29).

“Some have voiced the concern of Singapore going down a slippery slope after the repeal,” said Minister Masagos.

“Some touch on support for families, single parents. Others asked about the posture in educational institutions and express concerns on religious freedom.”

All of these concerns are important for keeping Singapore’s social fabric united, especially during the difficult global times ahead.

Changes and constants

There will be no change to Singapore’s social norms regarding marriage and families

“It is indeed the intention of the Government that there should not be a change in social norms following the repeal,” said Minister Masagos.

“This is precisely what Article 156 is intended to achieve. I explained in my speech yesterday that many different practices and policies support society’s notion of children within a marriage between a man and a woman.”

Religious leaders, or any other solemniser, will not be able to solemnise a same-sex marriage legally.

Concurrent to this, the Government is keeping its distinction between incentives and support for families.

Source: Made For Families

“Benefits intended to support a child’s development and caregiving are given to children of single unwed parents and of married parents equally,” said the Minister.

“These include healthcare and education subsidies, the Government’s First Step grant and co-matching of the Child Development Account, as well as the Government-paid maternity leave for unwed working mothers to care for their infants.”

Singapore’s education policies and curriculum remain anchored on prevailing family values and social norms

These values and norms are what most Singaporeans want to uphold, noted the Minister.

“These include the family as the cornerstone of our social fabric, and marriage between a man and a woman,” he said.

With regards to sexuality education, the curriculum in MOE schools respects the primary role of parents and reflects the national posture on the heterosexual family as the basic unit of society.

Source: Ministry of Education

“The curriculum remains secular and based on research and evidence,” said the Minister.

“This focuses on age-appropriateness and the developmental needs of the child when touching on topics such as homosexuality.”

Madrasah teachers will be updated on the current discourse on homosexual issues.

This is to advise and guide students on matters related to sexuality, according to the teachings and traditions of religion.

International schools will continue to not have their curriculum regulated but should respect Singapore’s social norms and values, he added.

“They must also be careful not to cross the line into advocacy on issues in Singapore that could be socially divisive. Such as how sexual orientation are handled in laws and public policy. These are matters for Singaporeans to discuss and decide.”

Across the board, there will be counsellors for students with sexuality issues. These counsellors, with consent from the student’s parents, refer him or her to professionals who can provide housing support and the appropriate intervention.    

“MOE’s focus is on the students’ well-being,” said the Minister.

“For students with sexuality issues, our focus is likewise to provide them with a conducive learning environment the necessary support to ensure their overall well-being.”

Religious freedom remains protected

This is under Article 15 of the Constitution.

“Every person has the right to profess, propagate and practice his or her own religion, subject to public order, health and morality. Every religious group has the right to manage his own religious affairs and can still preach on the pulpit their beliefs about homosexuality or family, even if others might disagree,” said Minister Masagos.

“But no one should incite violence towards others. This is against the law and is not the society we want to become. This is regardless of whether the comments are made in public, online or in your private space.”

Religious organisations may refuse same-sex solemnisations or weddings held on their premises too. Concurrently, they require consent when praying or counselling a person struggling with his or her sexuality, and must also not breach criminal thresholds of harm.

Discrimination will not be tolerated at the workplace

“Employees are protected against discrimination under the Tripartite Guidelines for Fair Employment Practices [TGFTP],” stated Minister Masagos.

These guidelines require employers to make employment decisions based on merit and not factors relevant to the job.

“For religious organisations, understandably, the potential employee’s religion and values would be a relevant consideration for certain roles,” he nuanced.

And private businesses must respect that people have a right to their personalities while not crossing the line into issues that will divide Singapore socially.

Source: Stacey Rozells, Pexels

“At our workplaces, employees should not feel compelled to support courses or participate in activities that do not align with their beliefs,” he added, noting that the TGFTP is clear on that an employee’s support, or non-support, of causes cannot be used when evaluating job performance.

Private businesses, lastly, should also “keep the marketplace free from the polarising contestation of values”.

“While businesses make their own commercial judgments with regard to their prospective customers, it should do so in a sensitive and respectful manner,” said Minister Masagos.

“Nonetheless, I urge everyone not to use commerce as a platform to display the conviction of their beliefs in the spirit of mutual respect.”

“A vastly diverse society”

The exact scale of change resulting from S377A’s repeal remains to be seen.

But Minister Masagos noted that governing requires uniting people with different views to ensure that “various segments will not push for a maximalist position”.

He added that Singapore is a vastly diverse society, and has thrived because everyone understands this.

“We as a society, we cannot lose sight of mutual respect when we engage with one another and must endeavor to listen to those who disagree with us. You must not destroy the social or economic standing. You should not denigrate others,” he said.

“This applies to all sides in every debate.”

And now that S377A is repealed, another task remains.  

“The work of staying united as one Singapore is what lies ahead of us, even as the debate on these two bills conclude,” said Minister Masagos.