Masagos & PSP's Hazel Poa argue over suggestion for definition of marriage to be decided by referendum

Masagos accused the PSP of trying to take the easy way out, while Poa maintained that the public should have a say in the matter.

Andrew Koay | November 29, 2022, 08:41 PM

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Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli has clashed with the Progress Singapore Party's (PSP) Hazel Poa over the latter's call for a national referendum on the definition of marriage.

In a short back-and-forth that followed Masagos' closing speech on the bill for a constitutional amendment, the minister concluded by characterising the PSP's position as irresponsible — "then we will wait for the train to crash on us," he said.

The "train" reference was used earlier in Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam's closing speech, who likened Singapore's position on section 377A to "a train approaching".

Shanmugam then asked whether parliamentarians "have the courage to act, or rather dive for cover to protect yourself and leave society to face the train wreck?"

Taking the easy way out vs hearing from the public

"The PSP proposal says that we should not allow Parliament to decide, but instead let the definition of marriage be decided by national referendum," said Masagos in Parliament on Nov. 29.

"This might seem seductive, but let’s call it what it is: It is an attempt to avoid taking a position, as Parliamentarians, as elected representatives of the people."

He further cited the UK's Brexit referendum, describing how it had polarised the nation and weakened the credibility of the British government.

However, Poa, a non-constituency member of Parliament (NCMP) refuted that her party was trying to find an easy way out, reiterating that they had made "difficult decisions" by supporting the repeal of 377A.

"A case in point would be the fact that we do have a position on 377A, which is also a difficult one," she countered.

"In this particular case, on the issue of the definition of marriage, we feel that this is an issue that is important to many Singaporeans and there is a high level of interest from the public to have a say in this matter."

"What is the PSP's position on the constitutional amendment?"

Masagos subsequently pushed the PSP to voice its opinion on the proposed constitutional amendment that was designed to safeguard the definition of marriage from being challenged in court.

"I thank the member for her clarification," said Masagos after Poa had replied to his closing speech, "but I think the most important question is not the referendum."

"It is what is the PSP's position on the constitutional amendment — are they for or against? And therefore [if a referendum is held] will they be for or against?"

Poa then stood up again to say that her party would be voting "no" on the bill to amend the Constitution.

The Minister for Social and Family Development responded by outlining the PSP's stance as agreeing with the repeal of 377A but still allowing for the institutions of family and marriage to be the subject of court challenges.

Masagos then outlined the implications of PSP's position by describing a hypothetical situation that would emerge if the PSP's vote on the bill had been successful.

"There will now be new challenges that will be put up in court on constitutional grounds that other institutions like marriage and families — important to many Singaporeans — will stand before the court. And then we're back to square one again," he said.

"We will support a constitutional amendment if it says that the definition of marriage is to be determined by a national referendum," Poa replied.

"Then we will wait for the train to crash on us," Masagos quipped.


In Parliament on Nov. 28, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam had cited the significant legal risk that the courts would strike down 377A as one of the two reasons that the government had decided to act on the colonial-era law.

The decision to repeal 377A was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally along with assurances that the government would move concurrently to protect the definition of marriage from court challenges.

The latter would be formalised in a proposed bill that laid out the government's powers to promote and safeguard the definition of marriage while at the same time barring it from being changed through the court system.

The constitutional amendment bill was passed on Nov. 29 with the PSP's NCMPs Poa and Leong Mun Wai voting against it and WP MPs Sylvia Lim and He Ting Ru abstaining.

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Top image from MCI's YouTube channel