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Repeal, repel, restate

At the National Day Rally, our Prime Minister announced that Singapore will repeal S377A. This will no doubt alter the moral and social landscape of the nation, in which the Church is called to be salt and light. In this editorial, I would like to broadly outline the approach of the government and offer suggestions on how the church can herself respond.

Before that, however, I will address one prevailing myth on either side of the debate, which has muddled the conversation to date.

The “Retain S377A” Myth: S377A is an important moral marker for a society.

Many on the Retain camp believe that S377A serves as an effective “marker for many moral and social considerations”[1]. Based on my observation, the evidence simply does not bear that out. Anecdotally, I have never heard anyone say, “I wasn’t sure about whether homosexuality should be socially accepted or not, but when I learnt about S377A, I realised that it is morally wrong.” That is simply not the way adults moralise.

In terms of public policy, the existence of S377A did nothing to curb the rise of LGBT activism, prevent the High Court from granting adoption to a single man in a same-sex relationship [2] or censor positive portrayals of LGBT people in the media.

In short, S377A isn’t a bulwark against the tide of LGBT activism. That is simply a myth. In reality, it’s mainly employed by the LGBT community as a symbol of oppression, discrimination and injustice. And with each successive legal challenge it faces, it grows less effective, and more divisive. Contrary to the prevailing myth, S377A is far less a moral gate than a termite-riddled door — one best replaced with something more robust.

The “Repeal S377A” Myth: Singapore is a secular society.

There have been plenty of misgivings from the Repeal camp about what they view as religious groups (especially Christians) attempting to impose their religious beliefs onto a secular nation. Any opinion that arises from religion, the argument goes, has no place in a secular state. This misunderstands the character of a secular state.

That Singapore is a secular state means the government does not recognise an official state religion. It does not mean the government has to disregard religious opinion in their legislative and policy considerations. Pushed to its logical conclusion, that principle would result in the following scenario: “In a day where every single Singaporean except one subscribes to a religion, the government should only consider that one non-religious person’s opinion as the basis for all parliamentary activity.”

An example of such a country would be Communist Soviet Union in the 20th Century, where the government officially espoused “scientific atheism” and actively sought to eradicate all forms of religion in the nation. Singapore neither is, nor claims to be, nor wants to be, such a country.

Singapore may be a secular state, but it is a deeply religious society, with 80% of the population religiously affiliated. [3]Granted, the state should not make decisions by appealing to religious doctrine, but it is nonetheless incumbent upon a democratic government of a multi-religious citizenry to listen to the viewpoints of religious groups (as well as non-religious groups, of course), and to represent their interests equitably. It is a myth to imagine that a secular state should by no means acquiesce to the requests of religious citizens.

Having said that, let us now consider the action plan of government vis-à-vis S377A, which consists of a three-pronged approach: (1) Repeal, (2) Repel and (3) Restate.

Repeal S377A

The Judiciary branch of the government have signalled to the Legislature that S377A is at significant risk of being struck down by way of legal challenge. Because this law pertains to social values and norms, its fate should be more appropriately decided by the parliament, rather than the court. For the government to continue maintaining the status quo, therefore, is both untenable and irresponsible. The time is has come for the repeal of S377A.

Repel future legal challenges to the definition of marriage.

In tandem with the repeal of S377A is an amendment to the constitution to protect the Parliament’s right to define marriage (as between man and woman). In other words, the courts do not get to decide whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. This has the effect of precluding any potential legal challenge of the definition of marriage on constitutional grounds (i.e., Article 12), in the manner of S377A. It also allows the Parliament to continue enacting laws and policies founded upon a heterosexual understanding of marriage.

Restate Singapore’s affirmation of traditional heterosexual family values.

Singapore has historically built her society on the basic blocks of a “traditional family structure of marriage between a man and a woman, within which we have and raise our children”[4], and the government believes that upholding the traditional view of marriage and family remains the desire for most Singaporeans today.

The government is thereby committed to maintaining its current family-centric approach to nation building, and recognises that doing so in the current tide of global culture requires an intentional and active restatement of traditional family values through multiple platforms — education, legislation, media, etc.

This is where the church comes in. As salt and light in the world, the church must play its role to promote and preserve the moral and spiritual character of Singapore. The effect of Repeal and Repel means that LGBT activism, which has to date employed litigation as its modus operandi, will now have to seek other avenues for change. What was once largely confined to the courtroom will now spill over into civic society — it will take place on the streets, around the dinner table, over sips of coffee, in the classroom, and especially on social media. And it will no longer be a fight over points of law; it will be a struggle to win over hearts and minds. Because rather than convincing a panel of judges, it is has now become a matter of persuading the population of Singapore to vote in a government that will redefine marriage.

This is for the better, both for the sake of a more coherent legal system and the clarity of the church’s mission. Of late, the church has placed too much hope in political activism to “protect Singapore”. Legislation is useful for regulating behaviour, and so activism has its role, but only the Gospel can truly change hearts. In repealing S377A and repelling further legal challenges, it will, by God’s grace, cause the church to redirect whatever time and energies she has expended in activism, into a similarly zealous evangelism.

But more pointedly, the question before us is how we can support the government’s goal to restate and reinforce traditional family values in society. In a country where pragmatism rules political discourse, we must show that biblical-defined marriages and gospel-centred families work, they demonstrate a deeper commitment, they produce a greater love, they raise better children. They work better than man-made alternatives because it is God’s design for marriage and family. Otherwise, why in the world should we be upholding traditional family values?

So, we cannot just preach about family. We must believe it, and display its goodness by our lives, in our traditional families, of course, but perhaps more critically as a spiritual family in our church gatherings — where anyone and everyone, even those wrestling with gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction, can come and experience the tender love of a Heavenly Father, and be adopted as his children into a spiritual family through faith in Jesus Christ. - Ps Luwin Wong [1]

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