“The Registry (of Marriage) had no precedent for voiding marriages,” said Jean Chong, the Singapore-based program field coordinator for OutRight Action International. “We’ve not seen them do this before.”
Known as FK and BS to protect their identities, the couple married in 2015 while FK was still designated as male under law. They had consulted with a lawyer and were assured they were within their rights to legally marry.
“We have a law that says that marriage is between a man and woman, but the problem is that the registry went more than that,” said Chong. “They said can get married only if they want to remain a man and woman, but that is not in the law.”
The couple’s troubles started when the couple applied to receive state-subsidized housing.
Under Singapore law, married couples are eligible for certain housing benefits through the Housing and Development Board.
The law defines marriage between a man and a woman under an act known as the Women’s Charter, which provides explicitly heterosexual guidelines for issues surrounding marriage and family.
“What Singapore has is a lot of social engineering,” said Chong. “There’s all kinds of discrimination if you don’t fit into the cookie cutter mold of what they want Singapore to be.”
The Women’s Charter goes so far as to state “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.”
By the time the couple started their housing search, FK had undergone sex-reassignment surgery and updated the identity marker on her documents to female. Their gender was legally recognized as that of a same-sex couple, despite what the papers reflected at the time of their marriage.
The Housing and Development Board questioned the couple’s legal married status, and put their application on hold in order to allow the Registry of Marriages to investigate.
The couple was given the runaround for months before being told by the Registry of Marriage their marriage was no longer valid since they were not living as a man and a woman, making their housing search no longer approved.
The Registry of Marriages however was aware of FK’s transition even before their marriage, according to Quartz magazine in Singapore.
While her gender marker was still listed as male at the time of their marriage, FK had legally changed her name.
FK has stated the Registry of Marriage asked her to sign a document declaring she would not undergo any sex-reassignment surgeries before the date of their wedding and that she would wear masculine clothing to the ceremony.
“They clearly thought it through when they decided to make me sign the declaration form stating I wouldn’t go for surgery before the marriage,” said FK in an interview with Quartz magazine. “And I interpreted that as a sort of, ‘OK, whatever happens after the marriage is none of our business.’ Otherwise, why would they make me sign [the declaration]?”
Singapore, which does not currently recognize same-sex marriage, does in fact recognize trans people under law — but only the marriages of those couples that identify as heterosexual.
“This when our laws fail because nothing in our laws talks about other kinds of families,” said Chong. “We have rules around how heterosexual families are rewarded. They get better tax breaks. Anyone that falls out of that spectrum — single people, unmarried mothers, or in this case, a same-sex couple — they are just not in this framework.”
“This is blatant discrimination by two government departments that are undermining the rights to family and housing eligible to heterosexual married couples,” said Grace Poore, regional program coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands at OutRight Action International in a press release.
“Singapore’s insistence that transgender people must remain in heterosexual relationships denies transgender people the right to be gay or lesbian,” added Poore.