‘Things are quite tense’: Taiwan on edge as same-sex marriage vote looms

18-May-2019 Intellasia | The Guardian | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Supporters uneasy ahead of parliamentary debate on marriage equality bills

Two years ago, Taiwan’s constitutional court made a historic ruling, declaring the country’s civil code, which posited that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, unconstitutional.

The court gave Taiwan’s legislature two years to pass a law that would give legal recognition to same-sex marriages, or else they would automatically become legal. On Friday, one week before the court-mandated deadline, lawmakers will vote on three draft bills, one put forward by the cabinet, two submitted by anti-LGBT groups.

For the people at the forefront of the marriage equality movement, it is a make-or-break moment, and success is anything but guaranteed.

Lawyer Victoria Hsu is the founder and executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights. Her team represented LGBT pioneer Chi Chia-wei in the lawsuit that led to the constitutional court’s landmark ruling two years ago.

The court’s ruling allowed the legislature some discretionary leeway, Hsu said, giving it room to amend the civil code or add a new law specifically for same-sex couples. Taiwan’s LGBT community overwhelmingly prefers an amended civil code, while viewing a separate law as being intrinsically unequal.

The bill submitted to the Legislative Yuan by president Tsai Ing-wen’s cabinet would create a separate law, however, it is far more preferable to the other two bills, she said, which use the language of “same-sex union” or “same-sex family” instead of the word “marriage”.

“We hope the Legislative Yuan can pass the cabinet’s bill,” Hsu said. “Even though it’s not perfect, it’s still marriage.”

Opponents of LGBT rights in Taiwan, many of them conservative Christians, have been emboldened by last November’s referendum, in which same-sex marriage was rejected by voters. The constitutional court’s decision, on the matter, Hsu said, carried more legal weight than the referendum result.

In the local elections that were held concurrently with the referendum last year, there was a bright spot for the LGBT community here, however. Miao Po-ya, of the Social Democratic party was voted into office as a Taipei city councillor, making history as the first two openly gay people, both elected on the same day to hold such a position in Taiwan.

She said the cabinet’s draft law was the only one of the three up for consideration that could satisfy the constitutional court’s ruling. While there is significant support for it among legislators, she said it was not guaranteed to pass.

“Things are quite tense now,” she said.

Failure to pass the cabinet’s bill would be a major political setback for Tsai’s Democratic Progressive party (DPP), which holds a majority in the Legislative Yuan, Miao said. In the wake of the constitutional court ruling two years ago, the party could have easily pushed for full marriage equality legislation, with the cover of following court orders. Political considerations, including fear of retribution from conservative groups, led to inertia.

“Two years ago was an excellent opportunity” for the DPP, she said. “Now is their last chance to make this happen.”

Partisan politics aside, Taiwan’s image as one of Asia’s most progressive countries will also suffer if the cabinet’s bill fails to pass on Friday.

“People already have the impression that Taiwan will have same-sex marriage,” Miao said. If either of the anti-LGBT groups’ bills pass tomorrow, “the world will wonder what happened”, she said.

Jay Lin, organiser of the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival, said that while the cabinet’s bill wasn’t the ideal version of full marriage equality with full adoption rights, it was a start.

“I think it’s the best that we are able to get at this stage,” said Lin, who is father to two sons with his husband, who he married abroad. “We are coming down to the home stretch, and given the alternative, we must come together one final time to ensure the cabinet’s marriage bill passes.”

The cabinet’s bill is the only one of the three that allows for adoption rights for same-sex couples, Hsu said, but permitting only one partner to adopt the other’s biological children.

“It’s like not allowing a step-parent in a straight marriage to ever be allowed to adopt their spouse’s children,” Lin said.

Jennifer Lu, coordinator of the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, said that even though the best-case scenario tomorrow passage of the cabinet’s bill was still not ideal, Taiwan was making quick progress with regard to same-sex marriage.

“We’ve seen other countries go through this process, and it can take 10 to 20 years, but we’re trying to do it in three,” she said. “I’m happy to see the government show leadership with this bill.”

Lu said she felt that if the bill passed, much of the conservative opposition to same-sex marriage here would likely abate. “In every country, marriage equality has been a big fight,” she said. “But after it passes, people realise it’s not a big deal.”

Should the cabinet bill pass, Lu said, it won’t be the end of the LGBT community’s fight for full marriage equality and adoption rights.

“I’m looking forward to the day our fight is over,” she said. “The last three years have been exhausting.”



Category: Taiwan

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