Taiwan 2019: same-sex marriage introduced against majority will

Veteran gay activist Chi Chia-wei at Gay Pride Taipei 2016

On May 17th, 2019 same-sex marriage was legalized in Taiwan exactly two years after Taiwan’s highest court, the Council of Grand Justices, ruled that the ban barring gay couples from marrying violated “the people’s freedom of marriage” and “the people’s right to equality”. Even before 2017’s decision, the island was the most gay-friendly nation in the whole of Asia, and nowadays that’s truer than ever.

Since 2003, every autumn a gay parade is being hold in the capital Taipei. In 2019, according to the organizers, there were 100,000 participants, many of them from more conservative neighboring countries. In the 15 years that I could have attended while living on the island, I never did so. It’s not the kind of event that I would participate in. Anyway, if you went out on such a day, it was very easy to meet members of that community.

But also in daily life gay people are very visible, and on Taipei Metro you will easily see a dozen of female couples every single day. I remember that many years ago, I was riding it when two girls from a female-only elite school, known for its very high percentage of lesbians, who stood very close to me, started engaging in what you just fell short of sexual activity. While one of them began gnawing at her classmates’ ear, the other responded by moaning almost directly into my ear. During my 13 years in promiscuous Berlin, I had never witnessed anything comparable.

In accordance to the ruling, female President Tsai Ying-wen’s left-wing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government opened registration for same-sex couples on May 24th, 2019. More than 3,500 have married so far. This development is insofar interesting as gay marriage was rejected by a large majority of Taiwanese in two referendums hold simultaneously with local elections on November 24th, 2018. As required by law, both had a participation of over 25%, and more than double the amount of voters were against it then in favor of it. Unsurprisingly, a coalition formed by various Christian organizations considered the result a victory for all those that uphold traditional family values.

Nevertheless, exactly as in the West, progressive political forces respect the people’s will only if it fits into their concept. This is remarkable as the DPP, which had been founded illegally 1986 when martial law was still in place, and always praised referendums in general as great democratic achievements, stuck to its guns. Basically, even taking the judgement into consideration, it forced the interests of a small, but influential minority down the throat of an essentially conservative society.

The fact that at the time there was such obvious opposition didn’t amuse local activists at all. Jennifer Lu, a spokeswoman for Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, was saddened by what she described as absurdities and blamed governmental incompetence for allowing the whole procedure to go ahead in the first place. From her perspective, gender equality was indeed endangered. But it never represented a severe blow to Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, rather the contrary. Clearly, at the end those worries about newly won rights were totally unfounded anyway.

As expected, there are new complaints: same-sex couples in which one partner is Taiwanese, and the other is a foreign national of a country that does not yet recognize same-sex marriage, are not permitted to marry. Only in Taiwan this is the case. Moreover, married same-sex couples there can only adopt the biological children of their spouse. So the fight goes on.

Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang stated last year that the Civil Code would not be changed, but the right to marry for homosexuals obviously has been uphold. I’m not a lawyer, but what are the legal implications of such a declaration in a democracy?

However, the really good news is that, regardless of one’s position, this controversy has helped Taiwan to be more visible globally. Considering its weak international standing due to China’s constant interference, that’s a very positive side effect.


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