by OutRight Action International
As The Straits Times has reported on July 18th, the Registry of Marriages (“the Registry”) has voided the marriage of a transgender woman and her partner in an unprecedented case in Singapore condemned by OutRight Action International. Known as FK and BS, the couple were married in October 2015 while FK was still designated as male under Singaporean law. When applying for subsidised housing available only to married couples, Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) questioned the couple’s marriage because, by then, they were each legally registered as female. The marriage was then voided by the Registry and later the couple was denied marital housing.
While transgender people are entitled to legal gender recognition in Singapore, the Registry used the country’s criminalization of homosexuality and failure to recognize same-sex couples as the basis for annulling their marriage.
“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. “Furthermore, Singapore’s insistence that transgender people must remain in heterosexual relationships denies transgender people the right to be gay or lesbian, which is completely unacceptable.”
An article by Quartz magazine reports that even before their wedding, the Registry knew that FK had legally changed her name. According to accounts by FK, the Registry asked her to sign a document declaring that she would not undergo any gender-related surgeries before the date of her marriage and requested that she wear masculine attire on her wedding day.
After beginning their lives together, FK and BS put their names on a waiting list for a state-subsidized apartment. In August 2016, FK and BS alerted Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) of FK’s updated legal gender. The HDB contacted the Registry, leading to a period of bureaucratic confusion.
Jean Chong, Program Field Coordinator for OutRight Action International, said to AFP that, “policies need to catch up with the realities of society,” noting that, “Families come in all shapes and sizes and of course while people get married as man and woman, there are those who transition along the way, so does this mean their marriage is no longer valid?”
On February 10th, FK and BS were informed by the Registry of Marriages that their marriage was void because they “did not intend from the start to live as one man and one woman,” leaving them without a marriage and housing. Eventually, FK and BS found housing through a government program that provides housing only to single people. However, the home they received costs more than it would have for a married couple and is only half the size.
Poore concluded, “On numerous occasions at national and international arenas, the Singapore government has stated that there is no discrimination against LGBT people in Singapore. This proves what we’ve always known: this is a lie. The state can do right by FK and BS by reinstating their marriage and providing them with the housing to which they are entitled.”