Taking advantage of the party's whip being lifted, Workers' Party's (WP) Members of Parliament (MP) Dennis Tan, Gerald Giam, Sylvia Lim, and Leon Perera offered differing opinions on bills related to the repeal of 377A on Nov. 28.
Leader of the Opposition and WP chief Pritam Singh had earlier voiced his support both for the repeal of the anti-gay law and an accompanying amendment to the constitution to protect the definition of marriage.
Of the other WP MPs that spoke in parliament on the same day, only Perera held the same position as Singh in the repeal of 377a and the amendment to the constitution.
Tan and Giam both did not support repealing 377A, while Lim stated that she would abstain from voting on the constitutional amendment.
Dennis Tan, Gerald Giam & Faisal Manap reject repeal
Tan, MP for Hougang, said that he found it "difficult to support" the repeal, citing feedback he had received from Singaporeans concerned about the removal of a "symbolic social marker".
"Many expressed concerns that the removal of such a marker may make it difficult for parents in setting down their family and social values at home," said Tan.
"Many are also concerned that they will be stopped from expressing their contrary views on sexuality after the repeal including the fear of being cancelled. Some are concerned that there will be name-calling because they take a view on sexuality in their workplace or for young people and children, in their schools."
Guided by his "own faith and beliefs," Tan said he was "personally troubled" by the repeal of 377A.
Referencing his "good friends" in the LGBT community, Tan asked for their understanding as he made the "most difficult decision" of his political career.
Likewise, Giam stated that he did not support the repeal, citing his belief that retaining the law was "in the best long-term interests of our nation".
"It is my sincere belief that retaining section 377A without enforcing it provides the best balance of the conflicting interests in our society."
While the Aljunied GRC MP professed that he was not prejudiced against members of the LGBT community, he acknowledged that his position was not universally popular.
"I have been told in my face by a constituent that he will not vote for me in future because of my stand on this issue," said Giam.
"I accept the importance that many Singaporeans place on their elected MPs’ positions on these Bills, to the extent that it will be a factor in their decision at the polls."
Yet, Giam said he hoped that Singaporeans would refrain from turning into single-issue voters.
"There are too many important issues that affect the lives of Singaporeans for one’s vote to be decided based on this single issue," he said.
Faisal Manap, who was not in Parliament due to a Covid-19 infection, also disagreed with the repeal, said Singh in his speech.
Sylvia Lim abstains from voting on constitutional amendment
In her speech on Nov. 28, Lim tackled technicalities related to the proposed constitutional amendment of Article 156, stating from the outset that she supported the repeal of 377A.
With regard to Articles 156 (1) and (2) — which set out Parliament and the government's authority to, among other responsibilities, safeguard and define the institution of marriage — Lim questioned if either added "anything new to the current" constitution.
Next, she zoned in on Articles 156 (3) and (4).
Both were written in reference to the fundamental liberties protected in Singapore's constitution and Lim stated that she was concerned by their implications on judicial oversight of Parliament and the government.
"To now include the definition of marriage as something that the courts cannot assess for constitutionality does not appear to me to be justified," she said, clarifying that she was not advocating for gay marriages.
"From a governance standpoint, I find this position very difficult to accept."
Lim, therefore, concluded by saying that she was casting a vote of abstention on the Constitutional Amendment Bill. In contrast, Giam, Tan, and Perera stated their support for the bill.
Leon Perera supports both repeal & constitutional amendment
In addition, Perera voiced his support for the repeal of 377A, given that it was not actively enforced.
“To keep a law that has a serious impact on the lives of many Singaporeans on the basis that it is a marker but will not be enforced by the current government is not, in my opinion, how we should go about making good laws,” said Perera.
He further cited his personal conviction that individuals should be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation.
However, Perera argued that freedom of speech — protected by the Constitution — should continue to be extended to those who respectfully question LGBTQ relationships on the grounds of religion.
“Can we move forward by respectfully agreeing to disagree without demonizing the one we disagree with but embracing him and her as our fellow citizen, our colleague, our brother and our sister?” asked Perera.
“I think we must. I don’t know for a fact that we can or will. But from the discussions I have had with my Workers’ Party colleagues who have expressed or will express different views from mine in Parliament today, I would like to say that I am optimistic that Singapore can do it.”
WP's MPs' positions on Nov. 28
- Pritam Singh — supports the repeal of 377A, supports the constitutional amendment
- Sylvia Lim — supports the repeal of 377A, abstaining from voting on the constitutional amendment
- Dennis Tan — does not support the repeal of 377A, supports the constitutional amendment
- Leon Perera — supports the repeal of 377A, supports the constitutional amendment
- Gerald Giam — does not support the repeal of 377A, supports the constitutional amendment
Top image from MCI's YouTube channel