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Constitution to be amended to prevent challenges on marriage definition – PM Lee

Composite image of a couple in wedding attire in front of the Merlion in Singapore and PM Lee during the National Day Rally 2022. (PHOTO/SCREENSHOT: Getty Images, Prime Minister's Office YouTube)
The amendment will be in tandem with the move in a 'controlled, carefully considered way' to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, said PM Lee during the National Day Rally 2022 on 21 August, 2022. (PHOTOS: Getty Images, Prime Minister's Office/YouTube)

SINGAPORE — Singapore plans to amend its Constitution to prevent the definition of marriage from being challenged in the courts, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (21 August).

The amendment will be in tandem with the "controlled, carefully considered way" to repeal Section 377A (S377A) of the Penal Code, the law that criminalises sex between men, Lee added during his National Day Rally 2022 speech delivered in English.

This will limit the change to what most Singaporeans will accept, which is to decriminalise private sexual relations between consenting men, he said at the Institute of Technical Education headquarters at Ang Mo Kio.

"But it will also keep what I believe most Singaporeans still want, and that is to retain the basic family structure of marriage between a man and a woman, within which we have and raise our children."

As such, the government has no intention of changing the legal definition of marriage in Singapore – contained in the Interpretation Act and the Women’s Charter – nor national policies based on this definition, Lee said.

However, as the law stands, this definition can be challenged on constitutional grounds in the courts, just like S377A has been challenged, according to Lee.

Over the years, various parties have filed constitutional challenges against S377A, arguing that the law discriminates against LGBT individuals. Three of them were dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 28 February.

If a constitutional challenge against the definition of marriage succeeds here one day, it could cause same-sex marriages to become recognised in Singapore, he added.

"I do not think that for Singapore, the courts are the right forum to decide such issues."

Judges interpret and apply the law, but have neither the expertise nor the mandate to settle political questions, nor rule on social norms and values, Lee said.

But even so, those seeking change may still try to force the issue through "adversarial" litigation, inflame tensions as well as polarise society, he added.

"What we seek is a political accommodation that balances different legitimate views and aspirations among Singaporeans. For some, this will be too modest a step. For others, it will be a step taken only with great reluctance."

By and large, Singapore is a traditional society with conservative social values, where people believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, Lee highlighted.

Children should be born and raised within such a traditional family unit forming the basic building block of Singapore's society, he added.

"Most Singaporeans would like to keep our society like this. This is the government’s position too. We have upheld and reinforced the importance of families through many national policies, and we will continue to do so."

Read more about the National Day Rally 2022, including what were some of the major announcements and the reactions to PM Lee's speech.

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