The recent ruling by the Indian Supreme Court to widen the definition of families to “atypical” households like same-sex couples has starkly illustrated the risks of a legal challenge to Singapore’s current definition of marriage, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said in a Facebook post on 1 September.
Mr Shanmugam noted that the Indian court’s decision to recognise different types of families comes just a few years after it struck out Section 377 of its penal code in 2018, which like Singapore’s Section 377A, criminalises homosexuality.
In his Facebook post, Minister Shanmugam said that the current definition of marriage in Singapore is likely, in due course to be challenged in the Courts as being in breach of the Constitution.
To prevent such legal challenges – as seen in the India Supreme Court – the Government intends to make constitutional amendments to ensure that the definition of marriage in Singapore is decided in Parliament, not through the courts.
The repeal of Section 377A was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 2022 National Day Rally.
At the same time, he also said that laws would be strengthened to prevent a court challenge against the definition of marriage as defined in the Women’s Charter.
Most Singaporeans do not want the repeal to trigger a drastic shift in our societal norms across the board, including how we define marriage, what we teach children in schools, what is shown on free to air television and in cinemas, or what is generally acceptable conduct in public, PM Lee said.
Even many Singaporeans who support repeal want to maintain our current family and social norms.
Hence even as the government repeals S377A, it will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage.
Under the law, only marriages between one man and one woman are recognised in Singapore. Many national policies rely upon this definition of marriage – including public housing, education, adoption rules, advertising standards, film classification.
PM Lee said the Government has no intention of changing the definition of marriage, nor these policies.