An LGBT couple whose marriage was wiped off the books in Singapore is going to court

Seeking answers.
Seeking answers.
Image: Tom White/Quartz
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A Singapore court has agreed to review the decision to delete a Singaporean couple’s marriage from the city-state’s marriage registry after one partner underwent gender-affirming surgery, according to lawyers for the couple.

The marriage was revoked and deleted in February last year after the registrar decided that the marriage, while a heterosexual union at the time it occurred in 2015, had become a same-sex marriage, which is not allowed in Singapore. The couple applied in November to have the authorities’ actions examined in a bid to get their union reinstated. Singapore’s High Court granted the request last week.

The story of FK and BS, first reported in Quartz on June 14 last year, showed how laws in the city-state are out of step with one another, leaving the couple in legal limbo. Singapore’s laws on transgender and marriage rights also don’t fully reflect the gender and sexual orientation experiences people grapple with more openly now.

The couple last year detailed the stressful, convoluted process they had been through relating to their marriage over nearly two years. FK was asked to dress up as “obviously male” for the marriage proceeding, in keeping with her gender on her official Singapore-issued ID, and to sign a statutory declaration stating that she had not undergone surgery prior to marriage. Later, the couple was denied the four-bedroom public housing flat they were due to collect as a married couple after a four-year wait. The final blow was the revocation of their marriage.

“This application seeks a court ruling that the Registrar of Marriages, in deciding to void our clients’ marriage and then deleting the record of marriage from the state marriage register, acted beyond her legal powers. In our view, the Registrar’s decision and the action she took, raise rule of law issues,” the couple’s solicitors, Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss and Suang Wijaya of Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, told Quartz in a joint statement.

The case will be heard before a judge at the High Court, and could potentially proceed to the Court of Appeal, Singapore’s highest court, where it would be considered by a bench of three to five judges. A hearing date has not been set yet.

Singapore recognizes transgender people, but does not allow for same-sex marriage. When Quartz approached the Ministry of Social and Family Development, which oversees the Registry of Marriages, for comment last year, a representative stated: “Singapore law does not recognize a marriage where both parties are of the same sex. At the point of marriage, a couple must be man and woman, and must want to be and want to remain as man and woman in the marriage.”

However, the actual wording of the law governing marriages in Singapore states that “[a] marriage solemnized in Singapore or elsewhere between persons who, at the date of the marriage, are not respectively male and female shall be void.” At the time of the 2015 marriage, FK identity’s card still listed her sex as “male,” which continued until she changed it in 2016.

“I feel that the case was never really properly concluded, because the reason for revoking the marriage… it leaves open more questions than answers,” said FK.

Issues related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in Singapore can often be murky. Under Singaporean law, sex between men is still criminalized under Section 377A of the Penal Code, a holdover from the British colonial era, similar to statutes on the books of other former colonies.

Although the government has stated that the law is not proactively enforced as a form of compromise between the LGBT community and conservative sectors of the populace, LGBT activists have long claimed that the retention of the law has ripple effects, such as when it comes to the representation of same-sex couples in the media, or formal recognition of LGBT organizations.

FK feels that their troubles have stemmed from bureaucratic indecision over how to handle their unusual case, and hopes the judicial review will provide some clarity: “It’s time the LGBT community [in Singapore] got a sense of direction of where the government is. There are some questions that do deserve answers, and we need to know what the government’s stance is with regard to LGBT rights.”