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The Real Cost of Marriage Equality

The Real Cost of Marriage Equality

  • Current Affairs
  • Opinion
Top image credit: Roslan Rahman/AFP

By now, you’ve probably heard the story of how a straight, married couple became a same-sex one. As a result, their marriage was voided and ownership of their BTO flat was revoked.

All this in accordance with Singapore’s law that does not recognise same-sex marriages.

Situations like these are undoubtedly the ones that inspire us to pack our bags and head to Hong Lim Park, all in the name of rallying for marriage equality and equal rights.

Yet advocacy is easy.

The reality of same-sex marriage that has been left out of conversations is that it will come at a very tangible and material cost. And straight Singaporeans need to start recognising this.

(Image credit: davidcullenphotography)
For one, other existing laws and regulations will need to change. BTOs represent the most salient example of this.

When Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of same-sex marriages, many heralded them as an example for Asian countries to follow suit. This is easier said than done. Taiwan, with close to a million unoccupied residences, doesn’t have to deal with Singapore’s public housing shortage or system.

It’s no secret that affordable public housing in Singapore is in short supply and everyone who applies for a BTO flat already knows that the odds are against them.

Marriage equality will open up the public housing market to gay married couples. Consequently, demand will undoubtedly spike as more competition is introduced on the already highly competitive and limited housing front.

Are Singaporeans willing to accept these poorer odds of securing their desired units? Are they willing to have their BTO waiting times extended even further?

As for older couples, who were previously denied a chance to BTO, will they have priority over those currently waiting for a unit? And what about singles, who will inevitably be shuffled further down the never-ending queue? Will they graciously step aside in the name of equality to allow others to get ahead?

If it isn’t clear by now, same-sex marriage legalisation will generate as many winners as it will losers with regards to housing. It is indeed a contentious issue amongst Singaporeans and not one to be taken lightly.  

(Image credit: Roslan Rahman/AFP)
If we legalise same-sex marriage, we would also then need to consider how the law would apply to same-sex divorce. Our Women’s Charter is currently not equipped to deal with this.

Currently, under the Charter, a man may be ordered by the court to pay maintenance to his wife, or former wife. The same is not expected for a woman unless her husband, or former husband, is incapacitated.

This is based off two understandings. First, that a marriage solemnised in Singapore is between a male and female. Second, that the wife sacrifices her earning capacity in marriage and is likely to come out of a marriage less financially able.  

The Women’s Charter is founded on the understanding that both genders will play separate and distinct roles in a marriage, and this is fundamentally inconsistent with same-sex marriage which is essentially non-binary.

If same-sex marriages are legalised, someone would be required to take on the role of the “husband” or “wife” under the current version of the Women’s Charter for it to apply. Isn’t it already pointless and offensive to ask a gay couple who the husband or wife is in their relationship?

Of course, a solution would be to amend the Women’s Charter to accommodate for same-sex marriages, but this will be complicated.

For example, if we removed the maintenance provisions for women and made it gender neutral, would this then disadvantage the women that the act was designed to protect?

Alternatively, if we include a new provision in the act or a new piece of legislation that would apply solely to homosexual or gender-fluid couples, we would then be subjecting homosexual and heterosexual couples to different laws.

Can we still call this equality if this really happened?

While we don’t claim to have the answers, nor suggest that marriage equality should be off the table, these are important questions to consider when we advocate for the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

(Image credit: reddotforpinkdot)
If the support for Pink Dot is any indicator, then it’s safe to say that many Singaporeans do favour the idea of an all-inclusive society and equality for all.

But again, this isn’t about whether we should have marriage equality. It’s about what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to have it.

Until the necessary provisions are put in place with regards to housing and the law, having an equal society will require most of us to go against our best interests and make real and substantial sacrifices so that others can get ahead.

It’s not the most palatable of ideas and it requires a lot more than just showing up at Hong Lim Park every year in pink – a move that costs you virtually nothing.

So the question is: are Singaporeans truly ready to face the real cost of marriage equality?