September 2, 2022
SINGAPORE – The Indian Supreme Court’s recent ruling to widen the country’s 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, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Mr Shanmugam said the constitutional amendments that the Government intends to pass will seek to ensure that the definition of marriage here is decided in Parliament, not through the courts.
The Indian court had ruled last month that family benefits under law must be extended to blended families, same-sex couples and other households. Singapore’s courts have avoided such an approach and left the changing of laws to Parliament, he added.
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 sex between men.
At the National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced that Section 377A will be repealed, but also said the Government will amend the Constitution to safeguard the definition of marriage from legal challenges.
Elaborating a day later, Mr Shanmugam said the Constitution will be amended to make clear that it is Parliament’s prerogative to define marriage as being between a man and a woman and to make other pro-family policies on that basis.
In its ruling last month, the Indian Supreme Court had ruled in favour of Ms Deepika Singh, a nurse whose employer – a government medical institute in northern India – had denied her application for maternity leave after she gave birth because she had already taken leave to care for her husband’s children from a previous marriage.
The two-judge bench said the concept that a “family” consists of a single, unchanging unit with a mother and a father and their children ignores the fact that many families do not conform to this expectation.
Justice D. Y. Chandrachud, who wrote the order, said “family” could be defined by various configurations of adults occupying the roles of primary caretakers with both biological and non-biological children.
Referring to the Indian Court’s ruling on Thursday, Mr Shanmugam said: “Our courts have traditionally eschewed such an approach, and have said that these matters should be dealt with in Parliament. The constitutional amendments will seek to ensure that.”