A transgender couple, where the husband had undergone sex assignment surgery to become a woman, had their marriage voided by the Singapore Registry Of Marriages.

This caused them to lose their Housing & Development Board flat and several other privileges and tax reliefs available to married couples.

Activist-journalist Kirsten Han had this to say about ROM’s decision:

ROM was aware of the situation from the beginning, because it had been explained to them. Their response, at that point in time, was to come up with a declaration for the trans partner to sign, promising that she would not undergo gender affirming surgery before the date of the marriage. They also requested that she dress in a more masculine fashion on the day of the marriage.

If ROM knew that the marriage was going to be void, why did they agree to go ahead with registering it? Why did they even bother to come up with the declaration? If they had always known that the marriage would not be valid, why was the declaration necessary?

In a meeting with ROM after these problems and delays came up, ROM confirmed to the couple that they had met the requirements to be married at the date of marriage, and that therefore the matter was HDB’s call, not ROM’s. After more delays, the matter was bounced back to ROM again, and ROM suddenly decided that the marriage was void and deleted the record from the Registry.

Why was ROM’s position inconsistent? If the law is as they say, and as clear as they seem to think it is, why this inconsistency?

How is it that ROM can unilaterally remove marriage records from the Register? As the ST article notes, you usually need to go to the courts to get a marriage annulled, or to file for divorce. ROM is doing neither when they unilaterally void a marriage; they’re essentially just hitting “delete” on the record of the marriage, making it as if the couple have never been married before. What implications does this have, when ROM can unilaterally decide to void marriages? Under what other conditions do they give themselves the power to void marriages?

No matter whether you think there should or should not be same-sex marriage in Singapore, these are procedural issues related to the exercise of authority and power that are troubling.

Kirsten Han

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