23 May 2018
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Same-sex couple drop case against ROM

Straits Times
17 May 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Court seals case file after U-turn on bid to stop registrar from voiding their marriage

The same-sex couple who had sought to challenge the Registrar of Marriages' decision to annul their marriage have abandoned the move.

The couple had different genders when they married but the husband underwent surgery and became a woman. ROM then voided the marriage.

The Singaporean couple approached the High Court for permission to challenge ROM's decision. They also sought a court order asking for their entry on the State Marriage Registry to be restored.

They have now dropped the case and the High Court approved their U-turn last week. The case file has been sealed.

The seal order is rare and means that documents pertaining to the case cannot be inspected by an interested party.

According to previous reports, the couple became man and wife after their wedding in October 2015.

At a meeting with the couple then, the registrar had voiced concerns about registering the marriage, given the man's appearance and name. The man reassured the registrar that he would not undergo any sex reassignment surgery to become a woman before the marriage date. But some six months after the marriage, the man underwent surgical procedures and, by June 2016, had become a woman.

In August 2016, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority issued a new identity card in which the person's gender was stated as female.

Some six months later, the Registrar met the couple over the sex change and and later told them that the marriage would be voided.

The registrar maintained that the couple had no intention of living as man and wife during their marriage, which runs counter to the Women's Charter.

For example, the man had not revealed that he had been preparing for sex reassignment. International norm requires that a man who plans to switch genders should live for at least 12 months as a woman before surgery.

The couple managed to get the court's leave in January to challenge the registrar's decision to annul their marriage. The next step was to prove their case.

Instead, they did an about-turn and dropped the case last week. Their lawyer, Mr Suang Wijaya, declined to comment on the issue, while Justice Valerie Thean ordered the file sealed.

Courts can order the sealing of files, based on the unusual facts of a case, but this is not done lightly.

For example, in another High Court case where three parties had sought the case files sealed, Justice Choo Han Teck made it clear that merely saving the parties from embarrassment was no good reason to seal the files. "Court proceedings are public proceedings and not secret trials. Court files should only be sealed on deserving grounds such as security, for example, of the state," said the judge.

The registrar's spokesman yesterday declined comment on "the specifics of the case" as the case file has been sealed following an application from the couple.

One fallout for the couple was that, once the marriage was voided, they became ineligible for the HDB flat they had booked to buy and for which they had waited for over three years.

The HDB in responding to ST queries said "flat applicants have to meet the prevailing eligibility conditions to buy a flat".

"These conditions are set out in the public domain, including on the HDB InfoWEB. If there are changes in family structure and applicants are unable to complete a flat purchase under prevailing eligibility schemes and conditions, the flat booking may be cancelled.

"This includes void marriages."

The seal order is rare and means that documents pertaining to the case cannot be inspected by an interested party.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.