Government upholds pro-family policies amid divergent views on 377A: Masagos

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli speaking at the Multi-Ministry Taskforce press conference on Monday (27 January). (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore

SINGAPORE — The government will continue to uphold the "traditional family" policies amid divergent views on Section 377A of the Penal Code, said Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli in Parliament on Thursday (10 March).

The focus of matters such as marriage, parenthood, adoption, fertility treatment, housing and inheritance is on the family unit, said Masagos as he addressed the law that criminalises sex between men but is not proactively enforced by the authorities.

"Family continues to be the bedrock of our society and contributes to social stability, allows children to strive," said the minister, who stressed that policies and laws will continue to reflect societal norms and values.

Speaking during the debate on the spending plans by Ministry for Social and Family Development, Masagos stressed that the government will work to ensure that LGBT+ persons are protected from violence, harassment, and abuse through laws such as the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).

The minister was responding to a query from Marine Parade Member of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng, who had asked for his ministry's stance on the controversial law.

Masagos alluded to Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam's comments last Thursday that policies need to evolve to keep abreast of the gradual shift in society's attitudes towards homosexuality.

"The court has acknowledged that the government's current approach on this matter avoids driving an even deeper wedge in our society," said Masagos, alluding to the Court of Appeal's recent dismissal of three legal challenges against 377A.

Societal views on mixed marriages

While the minister said that Singapore society can be described as "largely traditional", there is now a wider range of views and attitudes on families and marriage. For example, more than 30 years ago, one in 10 marriages were from inter-ethnic groups. Today, it is almost one in five, with some MPs among such couples, Masagos said.

The minister also cited a 2019 Institute of Policy Studies survey where 11.4 per cent of respondents felt there was nothing wrong with sexual relations between two same-sex adults. This was double the figure in a 2013 survey, which was about 5.6 per cent.

"But while societal attitudes are gradually shifting, the majority value and wish to preserve the traditional family: that of a man and a woman marrying and raising a child or children in a stable family unit," stressed Masagos, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

He acknowledges that 377A will still have the potential to polarise society, as it involves deeply held beliefs and values, and divergent societal views and goals.

"We will continue to adopt the approach of civil dialogue, working with all, involving all stakeholders, as we chart our own unique Singapore way forward without creating sudden shifts and deep division in our society."

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