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Handwringing over straight marriage

This week: People making a fuss over how straight marriage needs to be protected, the police seeks more power to collect DNA data, and George Yeo doesn't want to be president.

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
6 min read

Hello! This past week I finally made it back to some book editing — just a tiny bit and I'm still way behind schedule, but a marked improvement from being so burnt out I wasn't even able to write, so I'm feeling pretty okay about everything so far. You know what's helped? Many, many YouTube videos of chaotic K-pop bands participating in variety shows. Who knew watching people answer riddles while also screaming their heads off on theme park rides could be so good for mental health?


Much ado about straight marriage 🤷🏻‍♀️

With rumblings of Section 377A being possibly maybe potentially on its way out, there’s been more talk about heterosexual marriage. Specifically, how it should be protected. Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam has said that the government is looking into ways in which the current legal position on marriage — i.e. the fact that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognised in Singapore — can be protected from court challenges. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore — which has stayed silent throughout the multiple state executions, despite the Catholic Church’s overall position on capital punishment — also waded into the debate by releasing a statement saying that while they respect LGBTQ people, queer people should also “respect our rights to maintain our position on marriage and that the family unit comprises a father, mother and their children.”

The Straits Times, in what was likely an attempt to seem Fair and Balanced, then pulled a massive False Equivalence by publishing two opinion pieces on LGBTQ issues and children on the same page (online, both pieces are paywalled). One, entitled “Section 377A: Putting children first”, was written by Jason Wong and Mohd Khair, co-organisers of the town hall that was in favour of retaining S377A, arguing that children need to be protected from things like gender confusion and “losing” a father or a mother by being raised by same-sex couples. I’m not going to share the link to this article, but here’s a link to a piece looking at the misrepresentations and factual inaccuracies contained within that op-ed. I am, however, going to share the link to the other opinion piece, “Why more needs to be done to help LGBTQ youth”, and quote these alarming findings that it highlighted:

“A recent study among 469 LGB young adults published by the National University of Singapore Social Service Research Centre found that past experiences of discrimination, microaggressions, internalised homophobia (that is, negative attitudes towards oneself due to one's sexual orientation) and rejection anticipation were associated with higher levels of psychological distress.

Another recent study among 570 sexual minority men aged 18 to 25 by researchers from the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health found that 59 per cent reported contemplating suicide, whereas 14 per cent had attempted suicide.

Those who reported higher levels of experienced homophobia were more vulnerable.”

Even as someone who is herself in a straight marriage, I really don’t have much time for claims that the concept of heterosexual marriage is in need of protection. Firstly, even LGBTQ activists in Singapore are saying that it’s unlikely the LGBTQ community will immediately start demanding the legalisation of same-sex marriage once S377A is repealed. But even if they did, so what? If you personally don’t like same-sex marriage, then don’t marry someone of the same sex. No one is going to make you enter into a same-sex marriage, and straight people will be free to get married (and get divorced, and get married again, and get divorced again, if we so desire) as we have always been. On the other side, talk about the need to “protect” heterosexual marriage state, or at least strongly imply, that LGBTQ relationships and unions are some sort of threat or danger, which perpetuates the prejudice that makes life much more difficult, painful, and even dangerous for LGBTQ people.

I’m also uncomfortable with this idea of potentially blocking the legal definition of marriage from being challenged in the courts; the judiciary is an independent branch of government, and why shouldn’t people have the right to bring challenges to the courts for consideration? How the courts might rule is a separate question, but surely people should have the right to make their arguments and present them for deliberation.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs has also issued a warning to foreign businesses in the country not to get involved in advocacy for LGBTQ rights. This is the sort of thing that scares foreigners in Singapore from saying anything at all, even on issues that should be about universal human rights.


Police seeks powers to collect more DNA data

The Ministry of Home Affairs has tabled a new bill seeking powers for the police to collect more people’s DNA data. Right now, the police are allowed to collect the DNA of people who have been suspected of committing offences deemed “registrable” crimes, which include serious crimes like murder, rape, or robbery. The Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Bill will allow the police to collect blood samples from people who have been suspected of committing “eligible” crimes (including if you were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act) and add it to their DNA database. You’ll also be able to offer your DNA data to the cops, if that’s what you want to do.

These proposed amendments will allow the police to use DNA data for more than just criminal investigations and proceedings. They’ll also be allowed to use it to do things like identify people who aren’t able to identify themselves. Under these amendments, refusing to give a blood sample (if you’re suspected of an eligible crime) without a good reason can be punished with a fine of up to S$1,000, a month’s imprisonment, or both. On top of this, the amendments will also change the current practice where the police are legally required to delete your DNA data if you are acquitted or discharged by the court, or if you were found not to have been involved in the commission of any crime. If the amendments are passed, people will have to write in to request that the police delete their data, and the police will have the power to deny that request if they have grounds to believe that the data could be useful for other cases. You can appeal the police’s decision to a tribunal. But the Minister for Home Affairs could issue a certificate saying that the data is necessary for national security; this would be considered conclusive evidence and the tribunal would have to dismiss the appeal.

As usual, there are serious concerns about police powers, data collection, privacy and data handling here that are not getting discussed in Singapore. It’s expected that the amendments will sail through Parliament because… when have they not? The mainstream media have also been running stories portraying these amendments are a good thing in helping law enforcement do their jobs, and one CNA article contained this comment from an officer:

”…when asked about how such a national database could raise privacy concerns, SUPT Lim said these were rights issues drawn from Western influence.”

It’s not exactly surprising to me that a police officer prioritises their powers over questions of privacy and rights, but it’s still something to see in print.


George Yeo isn’t going to run for president

Noted.


✍🏼
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Checking in on the neighbours

🇻🇳 The Vietnamese health ministry has issued an announcement making it clear that homosexuality is not a disease and that medical practitioners in the country should not discriminate against LGBTQ patients. They were responding to a trend of healthcare providers advertising treatment that they claim can “cure homosexuality”. Although the government did not name these clinics directly, they made themselves quite clear. “Do not coerce members of these groups [LGBTQ] into medical treatment,” says the official dispatch. “If any, only provide psychiatric help, which must be conducted by experts with knowledge of gender identities.”

If you’re interested in a newsletter focused on Vietnam, check out Mike Tatarski’s Vietnam Weekly.


A photo of green blades of grass and leaves, with a stalk in the foreground with some bright purple buds.
I have no idea what plant this is but it's pretty.

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Weekly Wraps

Kirsten Han Twitter

A Singaporean independent journalist, activist, and cat slave.


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