Taiwan’s march to LGBT rights stumbles

02-Dec-2016 Intellasia | Nikkei | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The island republic may not be the first in Asia to grant marriage equality

Taiwan’s momentum toward becoming the first republic in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage has run up against religion.

President Tsai Ing-wen, who came into office in May, supports legalising marriage rights for all. Last month, in the lead-up to Taiwan’s annual pride parade, expectations rose that the Legislative Yuan would pass a bill to that effect by the end of this year. On November 17, the legislature began fully debating a revision to the civil code.

That same day, some 10,000 opponents demonstrated in the streets.

A week later, when the Yuan’s Legal System Committee held a public hearing on the bill, same-sex couples as well as parents of LGBT children shared personal experiences in stressing the need for marriage equality. And human rights groups rallied around the parliament building to support the cause.

But representatives of religious groups also showed up to speak against the bill. They argued that same-sex marriage would destroy families and throw Taiwanese society into confusion.

The leader of a Christian organisation criticised schools for “nurturing” LGBT people through programmes designed to deepen understanding.

With momentum having been gathering since last January, when Tsai won the presidency, many Taiwanese were surprised by the outburst against marriage equality.

Tsai has been supportive of the issue from the outset. She even appointed Audrey Tang, a trans woman, as a minister without portfolio.

And this year’s pride parade, at the end of October, attracted a record 80,000 participants from various parts of Asia.

Hsu Hsui-wen, head of an organisation that promotes LGBT rights, said the opposition seemed to coalesce only when marriage equality appeared to be on the brink of certainty.

In a survey earlier this month, commercial broadcaster TVBS found that 43 percent of respondents oppose marriage rights, 1 percentage point more than those who favour equality.

Hsu said her organisation will work to deepen public understanding of the issue and overcome the opposition through debate.

Opponents are focusing, in part, on the language of the bill, which would change the civil code’s definition of a marriage from the union of a “man and woman” to “both sides.”

The bill also calls for eliminating the civil code’s age-based gender bias. In Taiwan, males older than 17 and females older than 15 are allowed to marry. The bill would permit anyone older than 17 to marry.

But there are some in Taiwan who see this as too radical. At the hearing, a legal scholar said marriage between men and woman is a culture that cannot be changed by revising the civil code.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice is preparing another bill aimed at ensuring the rights of same-sex partners. The legislation is considered more acceptable to opponents of marriage equality than the bill to revise the civil code.

Activists have criticised this bill, arguing it would isolate the LGBT community. Yet it could end up getting the nod, depending on how much of a hubbub opponents create down the road.

President Tsai has yet to clarify her stance.

The Legal System Committee, meanwhile, appears to be moving toward the Ministry of Justice bill. It is to hold another public hearing, then amend the civil code revision bill to reflect the voices raised.

But the number of sessions and hours for deliberation are not fixed, so issues could fail to proceed from the committee.

It turns out that the issue could actually be too sensitive for gay-friendly Taiwan.

Consider that the bill to amend the civil code was worked out under the leadership of You Mei-nu, a member of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has a parliamentary majority. In other words, the governing party is split on the issue.

So forget marriage equality sailing through the Yuan – the law-making body may never even get a bill.

Asia will have to wait for LGBT rights.



Category: Society

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