“We, the people of Singapore,
pledge to build strong and happy Families.
We affirm the commitment of marriage
between husband and wife.
And take responsibility to nurture our children,
and respect our elders.
We celebrate and honour
the roles of each Family member.
And uphold the Family as the foundation”
The Family Pledge was released by the National Family Council(NFC) on 30 July 2013. One of the objectives of the NFC is to promote a ‘family first’ mindset as an integral part of Singaporeans’ lives as the family is a significant component in the country’s national social fabric. This is unsurprising because one of our country’s Shared Values states that the family is most stable fundamental building block of the nation. These Shared Values were meant to bind the diverse communities of Singapore together as a nation and was intended to preserve our Asian identities as Singapore moved forward in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world.
However, being the world champion Complainers that we are, some Singaporeans have kicked up such a great fuss about the wording of the Family Pledge, arguing that it is far from something to be applauded and is in fact a “giant stinking whopper of an insult” to people who do not believe in the common sense definition of a family. In addition, some even go as far to say that it is a “conservative fundamentalist Christian manifesto” in disguise. Conspiracy theory much?
First, there is nothing wrong with expressing the ideals that the majority of Singaporeans hold concerning the importance of the family in a pledge. Singapore herself is a strongly pro-family nation with a gamut of schemes such as the Marriage and Parenthood package, the Baby Bonus package, extended maternity and paternity leave, pro-family housing policies (Parenthood Priority), etc, all with the aim of providing support to Singaporeans who wish to get married and raise children. Moreover, in the recent Singapore Conversation, which sought to engage citizens about the shared values, ideals and aspirations, it was apparent that Singaporeans continue to care deeply about families.
We live in a democratic society where all eligible citizens, regardless of race, language or religion, are able to vote and participate equally in society both directly and through the representatives we elect. If some citizens feel they are uncomfortable with certain laws, they have the freedom to voice their views and opinions, and they have the option to ask their MP to bring up that issue for debate in Parliament. No one person or group, including Lawrence Khong and his congregants, is restricting their civil liberties or freedom of expression in any way.
That being said, people should always remain respectful and tolerant and take care not to insult the religion of others along the way. We may be a democratic secular state but we are also a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society, giving rise to a unique blend of Singapore secularism, characterised by the former Chief Justice Yong Pung How in the Court of Appeal in Nappalli Peter Williams v. Institute of Technical Education as ‘accommodative secularism’.
This means that the Singapore government works hand-in-hand with religious organisations (e.g. the collection of Mosque Building Fund contributions is facilitated by the CPF), provides government funding for religious schools (e.g. Catholic secondary schools), accommodates religious holidays (e.g. Vesak Day, Good Friday, Hari Raya Puasa), provides jurisdiction for certain religious courts (e.g. Muslim marriage, divorce and inheritance matters are under the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court).
More importantly, this brand of accommodative secularism means that religion is not to be completely excised out of the public square. In fact, religious views are and have always been welcome in public consultation concerning morally controversial issues such as the Casino debate in 2005 and the 2002 BAC Report on Cloning and Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. So while I agree that one particular religion should not be allowed to inform our tax or competition law regimes, it does not mean we ignore or discredit a person’s opinion because they are a priest, monk, nun, rabbi, imam or pastor of a mega-church.
Another bugbear that has been highlighted by the malcontents on the Interwebz is that ‘family’ has been defined too narrowly and, as a result, it excludes same-sex couples, single parents and anyone not in a traditional nuclear family. This feeling arises from the common assumption that homosexuality are a good thing and that any rejection of that is discriminatory and bigoted.
However, not everyone in Singapore subscribes to this belief. For the majority of society, marriage between husband and wife and the family may be accepted as a basic good of life, but homosexual marriage remains a highly controversial, unresolved issue. By adhering to this traditional ‘husband and wife’ model, Singapore has chosen not to blindly follow the way of the West in legalising civil unions or marriages between gay couples, and instead carve out her own path after balancing the competing interests of the community. This is a wise, practical decision as it is impossible to reach any type of consensus at this stage. As such, those who strongly advocate for gay marriage should restrain themselves from imposing their beliefs on the rest of us.
In my opinion, I do not think that the NFC’s Family Pledge is a ‘bigoted’ strike on homosexuals; a traditional family and homosexuality are not mutually exclusive. There is nothing in the Pledge that advocates taking away any civil rights from gays and lesbians, nor is there anything in it that purports to give heterosexual couples additional rights. Any inference otherwise only signals that the reader has conflated the homosexual person with homosexual conduct. For the record, there is no hatred, contempt or intolerance (the actual definition of bigotry) on the part of the NFC towards divorced couples or single parents for that matter.
Singaporeans are so difficult to please; when the government introduces new measures to boost the economy and create jobs, they say nothing is being done to repair the broken software of the nation, when the government comes up with ideas to strengthen the social fabric, they say the government should stay out of their bedrooms and keep their eyes on the hardware and the economy. I for one would like to congratulate the NFC on a job well done and I hope that there will be many positive outcomes from this move to remind Singaporeans on what truly matters in the long run.
While it may be true that some people who have families that do not fit into this traditional mould of the Family Pledge may feel left out, it is false to assume that every single one of them is an angry crusader against the ‘Patriarchy’ and wants a re-working of the Pledge to suit their situation. On the contrary, the vast majority of children who come from broken families desperately wish they had a ‘normal’ family, with a loving father and mother, and are committed to ensuring their future children will not have to go through the same negative experiences as they did.
Instead of criticising this Family Pledge, Singaporeans should commend the government for their efforts to build stronger bonds within the family and wider community. Stopping prejudice and discrimination against single parents is a noble cause, but it is even more effective to stop separation and divorce from happening in the first place. Some wisdom is needed here. We must pull down unnecessary dividing fences between neighbours but it does not mean that we foolishly destroy the outer walls of our city and leave ourselves vulnerable to attacks from the enemy.
Let us refrain from romanticising broken families (and writing misery lit about their supposed disenfranchisement) and instead work together to ensure people from broken homes receive the healing, support and protection they deserve, and are given the opportunities and a conducive environment to build stronger and happier families.