Budget debate: Government will continue to uphold traditional family in policies, laws

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said traditional societal norms and values will be reflected in policies and laws. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The Government will continue to uphold the traditional family in its policies and in the law, as it works with stakeholders to chart a unique way forward on Section 377A of the Penal Code, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said on Thursday (March 10).

He was responding to a question by Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) who asked for the ministry's position on the law criminalising gay sex, which was the subject of a recent Court of Appeal case that was also addressed in Parliament last week.

Mr Masagos said traditional societal norms and values will be reflected in policies and laws concerning marriage, parenthood, adoption, fertility treatment, as well as housing and inheritance, among other things.

"We'll 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 divisions in our society," he said.

The issue of Section 377A had come up for discussion during the debate on the Ministry of Home Affairs' budget on March 3, with Mr Derrick Goh (Nee Soon GRC) asking about a recent ruling by the apex court.

The Court of Appeal had on Feb 28 held that the law will stay on the statute books, but cannot be used to prosecute men for having gay sex.

In his reply to Mr Goh last week, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had noted the changing societal attitudes towards marriage and family, as he stated that Singapore will uphold "a stable society with traditional heterosexual family values, but with space for homosexuals to live their lives and to contribute to society".

Mr Shanmugam also said that public policies, along with legislation, will need to evolve to keep abreast of changes in views in society.

On Thursday (March 10), Mr Masagos told Parliament that Section 377A can be a divisive issue.

He noted that the court had acknowledged that the Government's current approach "avoids driving an even deeper wedge in our society".

Singapore society is still largely traditional, he said, though there is now a wider range of views and attitudes on family and marriage.

Mixed marriages, for instance, have become more common and "very acceptable to our society", with one in five marriages now an inter-ethnic union, compared with one in 10 about 30 years ago, he said.

"We are therefore not surprised that we are seeing an increasing acceptance of LGBT persons socially amongst Singaporeans," he added, referring to people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Mr Masagos said that in a 2019 Institute of Policy Studies survey, 11.4 per cent of respondents said that sexual relations between two same-sex adults were not wrong at all.

While still quite a small percentage, this is still about double the 5.6 per cent of respondents who felt the same way in 2013, he added.

But Mr Masagos said that even as societal attitudes are gradually shifting, the majority here still want to preserve the traditional family, in which a man and a woman marry and raise a child or children in a stable family unit.

"Family continues to be the bedrock of our society and contributes to social stability, allowing children to thrive," he added.

"We will uphold the traditional family in our government policies and laws, reflecting our societal norms and values. These include marriage, parenthood, adoption, fertility treatment even, housing, and inheritance, among others."

At the same time, the Government will continue to ensure that those in the LGBT community are protected from violence, harassment and abuse, he said, citing the Protection from Harassment Act as an avenue for such protection.

Mr Masagos added that the Ministry of Social and Family Development had also launched public education campaigns, such as Break the Silence, to raise awareness about family violence and encourage victims - regardless of nationality, marital status, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation - to seek help early.

"We also urge the public to step forward to report violence and abuse where LGBT cases may be involved," he added.

The minister also noted that issues surrounding Section 377A involve deeply held beliefs and divergent societal views and goals, and thanked religious, civil society and LGBT groups that have shown support for civil dialogue and respect for others' values, even when these are different from their own.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.