Defining Marriage in the Constitution: A Perspective from Singapore

Event date
27 October 2023
Event time
14:00 - 15:00
Oxford week
MT 3
Members of the University
Law Board Room - St Cross Building

Kenny Chng, Assistant Professor, Yong Pung How School of Law, Singapore Management University


Several constitutions around the world contain definitions of marriage—for example, that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Such constitutional provisions are quite remarkable. They amount to the entrenchment of a specific substantive moral proposition about the nature of marriage in the highest law of the land. Such entrenchment is even more remarkable when one notes that the definition of marriage and the family is one of the most contentious culture war issues of our time. A question that naturally arises when faced with such provisions is whether they are constitutionally and normatively justifiable. 

This paper aims to contribute to an answer to this question. It will provide a comparative study of such constitutional provisions. Specifically, it will map and evaluate a spectrum of positions that constitutions have taken on this issue by organising them in order of the degree by which they entrench definitions of marriage. In this regard, particular attention will be paid to a recent constitutional amendment in Singapore which sought to provide a degree of protection to the definition of marriage in Singapore—indeed, it will become clear that within the context of the spectrum of existing approaches, the approach which Singapore has adopted is a particularly interesting constitutional innovation. The paper will study and critically evaluate Singapore’s approach as a possible constitutional pathway for jurisdictions seeking an engagement with marriage in the written constitution.


Photo of Kenny Chng

Kenny Chng is an Assistant Professor at the Yong Pung How School of Law, Singapore Management University (SMU). His research focuses on constitutional and administrative law. Kenny has publications in leading academic journals in his areas of interest, including the Law Quarterly ReviewLegal StudiesPublic Law, and the International Journal of Constitutional Law. His work has been cited with approval by the Singapore Court of Appeal. 

Kenny is currently reading for a DPhil in Law at Oxford with a focus on administrative law. Prior to beginning his DPhil, he completed his LL.M. studies at Harvard University. At Harvard, he received the Dean’s Scholar Prize as the top student for the Public Law Workshop. He also graduated with first class honours from the SMU Yong Pung How School of Law.

Found within

Family Law