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PAP MPs raise concerns about protecting family values and social policies as Parliament moves to decriminalise gay sex

Section 377A penalises sex between men while marriage is defined in Section 12 of the Women's Charter as being between a man and a woman.

PAP MPs raise concerns about protecting family values and social policies as Parliament moves to decriminalise gay sex
Members of Parliament debate the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code and the amendment of the Constitution on Nov 28, 2022.

SINGAPORE: Members of Parliament from the People's Action Party (PAP) raised concerns such as protecting traditional family values and social policies on Monday (Nov 28), during the first day of a parliamentary debate on the repealing of a law that criminalises gay sex and amending the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage against legal challenges.

While all PAP MPs who spoke on Monday supported the repeal of Section 377A and the amendment of the Constitution, many shared concerns raised by residents in their constituencies and also stated their own view on gay sex and protecting the definition of marriage.

The PAP has not lifted the whip on this issue, which means its MPs will have to vote according to the party's position.

MP Alex Yam (PAP-Marsiling-Yew Tee) said he would have liked to push for heterosexual marriage to be enshrined or codified as a fundamental right in the Constitution.

However, he noted that the current amendment offers a clear definition of marriage as it currently stands as a union between a man and a woman.

"I hold the Government to its word that under its watch that no redefinition of marriage will take place. And even if a future government does so, that redefinition will require a repeal of Article 156 as it would be made redundant," he said.

He also asked what protections would be put in place to ensure that businesses and 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 blessing or ceremony for a transgender or same-sex couple, will they be subject to a lawsuit?" he asked.

Meanwhile, MP Lim Biow Chuan (PAP-Mountbatten) raised concerns about discrimination against those who believe in marriage as defined between a man and a woman.

Citing examples of discrimination faced by employees in international organisations or MNCs located within Singapore who refused to attend a PRIDE event or support same-sex relationships, he urged the Government to look into the matter.

PROTECTING TRADITIONAL FAMILY VALUES

Several MPs stressed the importance of protecting the institution of marriage and helping families and institutions to navigate the post-repeal of 377A.

MP Chris de Souza (PAP-Holland-Bukit Timah) said that the institution of marriage - defined as a union between one man and one woman - must be protected and cannot be diluted as it is the basis upon which Singapore's society is built.

He said the amendment to the Constitution today will also protect the Government's social policies that flow from this definition, such as housing, education and advertising standards.

MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (PAP-Chua Chu Kang) asked about the Government's plans to achieve the stated objectives to promote and safeguard the institution of marriage, and if there are any plans to provide families with counselling or parenting support.

During the debate, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan stated his belief in the traditional family form with "no apology, no reservations".

To protect it, he said public messaging on education in schools as well as mass media must continue to uphold these traditional family ideas.

Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Hoon Hian Teck said he believed "it is best" not to repeal Section 377A, as the current law provides an important marker to preserve the present structure of the family and its supporting institution.

"I believe that not repealing the law acts to bolster the achieving of the aims of the Government to keep the family form of a marriage between a man and a woman as a cornerstone of our social fabric for as long as possible, in the face of the many challenges to such an understanding of the family as the unit that forms the basic structure of society," Prof Hoon said.

NMP Mark Chay suggested not excluding non-traditional units from policymaking as well as educating children on all definitions of relationships. 

The first day of the debate on repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men, and to amend the Constitution to protect the definition of marriage against legal challenges, saw MPs on both sides of the House rising to speak on the issue.

While the Workers' Party lifted the whip for its MPs to allow those not in favour of the repeal of 377A to "vote freely", PAP did not. 

This is consistent with Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong's earlier remarks during an interview with CNA in August, where he said that the PAP did not intend to lift the whip for the debate.

Of the five WP MPs who spoke on Monday, two said they did not support repealing 377A during their speeches. They are MPs Dennis Tan (WP-Hougang) and Gerald Giam (WP-Aljunied).

MP Faisal Manap (WP-Aljunied) also did not support the repeal, said Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, although he was not present at Monday's debate as he had tested positive for COVID-19. 

The debate will continue on Tuesday.

Source: CNA/vl(ac)

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