Taiwan becomes first in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage
Lily Kuo, The Guardian | 17 May 2019.
Taiwan has legalised same-sex marriage, the first of any Asian state, with the passage of legislation giving gay couples the right to marry.
Lawmakers on Friday comfortably passed part of a bill that would allow gay couples to enter into “exclusive permanent unions” and apply for marriage registration with government agencies.
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who campaigned on a platform of marriage equality, tweeted after the vote: “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”
Thousands of gay rights supporters gathered in heavy rain outside parliament in the capital, Taipei, to watch a live broadcast of the proceedings. Supporters shouted “First in Asia!” after the article was passed.
“What we have achieved is not easy,” said Victoria Hsu, the founder and executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights. “The law will not be 100% perfect, but this is a good start and this is a major step to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Now the law says everyone should be treated equally no matter who you are, who you love.”
Two years ago, Hsu’s team represented the LGBT activist Chi Chia-wei in a lawsuit that led Taiwan’s constitutional court to rule that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional.
Judges had given the government until next Friday to pass legislation. As the deadline approached, three bills were introduced for voting on Friday, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
Two other versions backed by conservatives avoided the word marriage and described same-sex partnerships as a “same-sex familial relationship” or “same-sex union”.
The government’s bill, the most progressive of the three, is the only one to offer some adoption rights to same-sex couples, allowing spouses to adopt the biological children of their partner. Same-sex couples cannot co-adopt. Lawmakers were still debating adoption rights on Friday.
Cindy Su, one of the thousands of gay marriage supporters gathered outside parliament, told the crowd: “We are just a group of people who want to live well on this land and who love each other.”
Hsu said she and her partner had made plans to register as a married couple as soon as the law went into effect on 24 May, at the same office that rejected their attempt to marry five years ago. The department of civil affairs said that, as of Thursday, 151 couples had made appointments to register on that day.
Taiwan, whose annual gay pride parade is the largest in the region, has long been a hub for LGBT activism. Advocates called for other Asian nations to follow its lead.
“We hope this landmark vote will generate waves across Asia and offer a much-needed boost in the struggle for equality for LGBTI people in the region,” said Annie Huang, the acting director of Amnesty International Taiwan. “This is a moment to cherish and celebrate, but it has been a long and arduous campaign for Taiwan.”
In a referendum last year, citizens overwhelmingly voted in favour of restricting the definition of marriage in Taiwan’s civil code to between a man and a woman.
Tsai said earlier that she recognised the issue had divided “families, generations and even inside religious groups”. She defended the government’s bill as the only one to respect both the court judgment and the referendum.
Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has a majority in parliament, occupying 68 of 113 seats. Instead of amending the existing civil code, the bill creates a new law under which same-sex marriages will be regulated.
The Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation said on Friday that it “regrets and condemns” the parliament’s decision, describing it as a “malicious misinterpretation” of the referendum result.
Others warned of a backlash. “The cabinet’s bill ignores the referendum results and that is unacceptable,” said Lai Shyh-bao of the opposition Kuomintang party, who proposed one of the bills backed by conservatives.
Activists said they would continue to push for more rights, such as recognition of transnational same-sex marriages, where one partner is from a country that does not recognise gay marriage.
“We will just enjoy this victory for today, and continue our fight tomorrow,” Hsu said.