SINGAPORE, Aug 1 — Religious groups have said that marriage between a man and a woman should be safeguarded as an institution if Section 377A is repealed, while a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights group said that “there are no immediate plans to mount legal challenges to redefine marriage”.
These came after Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Saturday (July 30) that in reviewing Section 377A of the Penal Code, the Government is considering how to safeguard ”the current legal position on marriage” from being challenged in the courts.
Shanmugam was speaking to reporters about a week after a town hall, which called for the protection of families, marriages and children in relation to a possible repeal of Section 377A, was held.
Section 377A of the Penal Code criminalises consensual sex between men, but the nation’s highest court ruled in February that it cannot be enforced in its entirety and poses no threat of prosecution.
In response to TODAY’s queries regarding Shanmugam’s comments, the Archbishop’s Communications Office at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said it is assured that the Government is looking at safeguarding its current position of the law.
“We applaud and support the Government’s clear articulation of its position on marriage,” the office added.
The office said that should Section 377A be repealed, its concern is for marriage between a man and a woman to “remain the institution of nature that is safeguarded and even enshrined in the Constitution of the country as the natural structure of human society”.
The office also said that it respects the dignity of LGBTQ persons and that such people should also “respect our rights to maintain our position on marriage and that the family unit comprises a father, mother and their children”.
“It is our hope that the safeguards on marriage and our freedom to proclaim and teach without fear or favour what we believe is recognised and maintained.”
Shanmugam told reporters on Saturday that the Government has had “extensive discussions” with different people, including religious leaders, grassroots leaders and LGBTQ groups.
He noted that many agree that men who have sex with each other should not be imprisoned, and that gay sex should not be criminalised.
Shanmugam said: “At the same time, most do not want any decriminalisation to cause other major changes.
“In particular, most people that we’ve spoken with want the current position on marriage to be retained. And the current position is that the law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.”
In response to Shanmugam’s comments, Leow Yangfa, the executive director of LGBTQ rights group Oogachaga, told TODAY: “We are heartened to hear from the minister that the Government is clearly paving the way towards repealing 377A in Singapore.”
He added: “For Oogachaga and, to the best of our knowledge, others in the local LGBTQ community, there are no immediate plans to mount legal challenges to redefine marriage as it presently stands in the Women’s Charter.”
He said that “when 377A is repealed, hopefully in the near future”, the LGBTQ community’s immediate priorities will unlikely be to seek same-sex marriage or to redefine families, but to provide support for LGBTQ Singaporeans.
Clement Tan, the spokesperson for Pink Dot SG, acknowledged that while attitudes towards marriage and families are shifting, society has not yet reached a consensus.
He added that this will only happen “through education and changing hearts and minds”.
“The Government itself has acknowledged that policies should reflect changing norms. We only hope that the changes they are contemplating will leave space for society to continue having good-faith conversations on these issues,” Tan said.
On July 23, an event called the Protect Singapore Townhall was held to “help fellow citizens understand the state of LGBT activism and its consequences in society”, according to one of the organisers, Jason Wong. It was attended by 1,200 people.
In response to TODAY’s queries on the town hall and possible repeal of Section 377A, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) said on Tuesday: “The state has not changed its definition of marriage and we affirm that it should remain.”
Agreeing, the Alliance of Pentecostal & Charismatic Churches of Singapore (APCCS) said that it supports the retention of Section 377A.
“We agree with the town hall’s call for the Government to consider all possible impacts that can come from a repeal, before it makes any move concerning Section 377A,” said APCCS.
Both NCCS and APCCS responded after the townhall and before Shanmugam’s comments on Saturday. TODAY has reached out to them for further comments. — TODAY