Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill & Penal Code (Amendment) Bill — Speech by Dennis Tan

Mr Speaker, today the House is debating the Government’s amendment bill to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code and a proposed amendment of the Constitution to insert a new Article 156 relating to the institution of marriage.

In 2007, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the Government will not proactively enforce Section 377A. That has been the position since then. For the record, I still agree with the previous position of the Government not enforcing Section 377A.

Since the Government announced that it will be repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code and after the subsequent announcement of the proposed constitutional law amendment, I have received feedback and spoken to many residents of different races, religions and ages. I have also spoken to many Singaporeans and heard their views regarding the repeal.

I have heard and read the views of members of the LGBTQ community particularly their unhappiness with perceived discrimination and different rights as compared to heterosexual couples in the areas of marriage, owning BTOs, rights of child adoption, etc.

I also heard much feedback from residents and Singaporeans of their concerns for the repeal. Many were concerned that we would be removing a symbolic social marker by such a repeal.

People are also concerned with the societal changes they have seen in many countries in the areas of gender identity, sex education, marriage laws and public policy and with the repeal, some will press for more changes in law and policy after the repeal like what is seen in other countries e.g. in Australia and the US, and they wonder to what extent the proposed amendments to the Constitution can prevent more changes.

Many expressed concerns that the removal of such a marker may make it difficult for parents in setting down their family and social values at home. Many are also concerned that they will be stopped from expressing their contrary views on sexuality after the repeal including the fear of being cancelled. Some are concerned that there will be name calling because they take a view on sexuality in their workplace or for young people and children, in their schools.

People are also concerned that more changes will make society more divided.

Mr Speaker, some who are concerned with the repeal are of the view that the present position in law would represent the best balance. The Singaporeans I have spoken to or who have written to me with their reservations include those whose views may not be influenced by any religious views and also include those of a wider age range.

Mr Speaker, I have considered different views and positions many of which we have heard and will hear in the house today. The proposed repeal presents a number of difficult issues for different groups of Singaporeans; the symbolism of S.377A is different to different groups, their differing views and even the experiences of individuals. As an MP, in considering all issues, I am also guided by my own conscience in arriving at a position that I feel is right for our society and our people even if some may disagree. Even as I do my best to analyse the issues for different segments of our population and my constituents, for reason of my own conscience as guided by own faith and beliefs, I find it difficult to support the repeal of Section 377A. I am personally troubled by the removal of the marker it represents.

Mr Speaker, this has not been an easy decision for me because as an MP, I would like to represent all constituents as best as I can. I thank my party whip and party Secretary-General and LO Pritam Singh for lifting the whip. I do not take this lightly. In fact, I made this decision with a heavy heart. This is both a most difficult decision and is the most difficult speech I have to make to date, given the divided issues at play for different segments of my constituents and for Singaporeans; being very careful not to cause hurt or offence and yet having to be principled with my own beliefs. It is also not made easier because, like many fellow MPs and Singaporeans, I also have many friends and good friends who are from the LGBT community and some have over time shared with me some of their difficult experiences in life which makes my decision today even more difficult and humbling.  I humbly seek their understanding.

Mr Speaker, a conscience vote is a very heavy responsibility a member of Parliament is required to discharge because it is a responsibility that each of us carries alone, guided by our own conscience.

Mr Speaker, on the issue of the Constitutional amendment. My colleague and my honourable friend, Ms Sylvia Lim, has raised some concerns regarding the implications of the proposed carve outs in the proposed Article 153 to exclude the courts’ role in ensuring conformity with the constitution. While I agree that her concerns have some merits, and I look forward to the Government’s assurances on the issues she has raised, I would still support the amendments for the reason that, as the Government is minded to push through the repeal of Section 377A, if the repeal were to proceed without the proposed Constitutional amendments, those who have reservations about the repeal may be even more concerned that there will be no other enhancement in law to address their concerns.

Mr Speaker, before I close, I would like to thank many of my constituents and many Singaporeans who spoke to me about the proposed repeal of Section 377A including both those who support the repeal and who object to the repeal. I would also like to seek the understanding of my constituents and Singaporeans who may not agree with my decision. The position I take today does not change how I treat all my constituents and all Singaporeans. I will continue to serve all my constituents to the best of my ability.

Moving forward, I hope for greater understanding between those who share different views on LGBT and greater tolerance of different views.

We may not always agree with each other on every issue but we can and should agree to disagree. We should still love and respect each other no less as fellow human beings. And I hope that there will be more dialogue between those who share different views so that there may be a better understanding and less polarization.

Mr Speaker, I oppose the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill but will support the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill. Thank you.

Delivered in parliament on 28 November 2022