Desmond Lee: LGBTs should not face discrimination but pushing for rights can be "very socially divisive"

He also confirmed his ministry is looking into reviewing the adoption law to 'better reflect public policy'.

Matthias Ang | January 14, 2019, 03:58 PM

While Singapore's LGBT community has a place in our society and should not be subjected to discrimination, it is "socially divisive" to push for rights and entitlement if broader society is not ready.

This was the statement on the matter of adoption of children by same-sex couples made by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in Parliament on Monday, Jan. 14.

Lee was responding to questions raised on a landmark High Court ruling in December last year that allowed a Singaporean gay man’s to adopt, as a single parent, his surrogate child who was conceived in the United States.

Ruling garnered two kinds of reactions

Lee stated that the ruling had raised reactions over the "definition of marriage, family, and future conceptions of family in society", which could broadly be classified into two camps.

One camp felt concerned that the ruling would set a precedent in allowing same-sex couples to adopt children in Singapore, and by extension, the normalisation of same-sex households in Singapore.

The second camp, said Lee, which includes LGBT activists, viewed the ruling as a step towards the recognition and legalisation of same-sex relationships.

Lee added that these divergent attitudes have become increasingly significant in Singaporean society.

Lee: Pushing for social change via courts/legislation "can polarise society"

In elaborating on the statement of the LGBT community having a place in Singaporean society, Lee stressed that like all other Singaporeans, they should "have access to opportunities and social support such as education, employment, and healthcare".

Additionally, they should not be subjected to prejudice and discrimination.

He added:

"However, we must be mindful that a push for rights and entitlements which broader society is not ready for, or able to accept, will provoke a pushback, and can be very socially divisive. A push to use legislation or the courts to precipitate social change involving issues as deeply-held and personal as this [can] polarise society."

Still backs heterosexual marriages through policies

Lee said the government recognises that there are increasingly diverse forms of families and households in Singapore, but the norm in society remains to be that of "a man and woman marrying, and having and bringing up children within a stable family unit".

Lee added that this is the family structure endorsed by the government as, he says, "most of us would agree" that the ideal circumstances for the raising of children are within families anchored by strong and stable marriages.

It is a stance that is reflected in what he refers to as the government's "differentiation" maintained in its policies and benefits engineered in support of parenthood within marriage.

Lee stated that while the government will not intrude into the private lives of Singaporeans, including homosexuals, and their relationships or partnerships, it will not support the formation of same-sex family units with children through institutions and processes such as adoption.

MSF opposed appeal to adopt surrogate son, but accepts court decision

For the reasons explained above, said Lee, his ministry did not support the appeal by the same-sex couple in adopting their surrogate son.

This was because the appeal had been done after being informed by the government that such an action would be "contrary to public policy".

He noted also that the son is a U.S. citizen (i.e. not stateless), and still lives with his father and will be cared for, regardless of whether or not his father is allowed to adopt him or not, and his father already had full parental rights and responsibility for him.

Lee additionally stressed that the High Court allowed the adoption in view of the specific facts of the father's case, in the interest of the boy's welfare, which is why the government accepts its decision.

Govt considering changes to adoption laws to "better reflect public policy"

Lee also told Parliament that his ministry is reviewing Singapore's adoption laws to better reflect public policy and, he says, by extension, the values of our broad society today.

"... while the welfare of the child should always be a very important consideration in adoption proceedings, we are looking at whether the Adoption of Children Act needs to be amended so that an appropriate balance can be struck when important public policy considerations are involved."

Top image collage left photo from Desmond Lee Facebook, right photo from Pink Dot Facebook