Taiwan set to legalize gay marriage despite legislative hurdles

Taipei is due to take a series of decisive steps this week to legalize same-sex marriages before the May 24 deadline set by the island’s top court. However, deep divisions in public opinion may stall the process.

Over 1,500 pro-marriage equality supporters gathered outside Taiwan's legislature earlier this week as lawmakers tried to smooth out differences among three competing draft bills on same-sex marriage. Many of the protesters are hoping to be able to legally marry their same-sex partners on May 24, the deadline to legalize homosexual marriages mandated by Taiwan's constitutional court in a landmark ruling in 2017.

Gay rights organizations had hoped the government would legalize same-sex marriage by directly amending marriage clauses in the civil code, a step considered by many as the truest form of equality. However, the central government and Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) failed to propose any law or changes that would pave the way for the legalization of gay marriages following the court ruling.

A chequered past

With the lack of government action, anti-marriage equality groups initiated a number of referendums last year and voters overwhelmingly backed the notion of defining marriage purely as a union between a man and a woman, leaving little support for the government to legalize gay marriages.

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Global 3000 | 15.09.2017

Gay Marriage in Taiwan

On Friday, the legislature will vote on three draft bills to determine the fate of Taiwan's three-decade-long fight for marriage equality. The government's bill is viewed by most gay rights groups as the most progressive because it is the only bill that uses the word "marriage" to define same-sex relationships and offers limited adoption rights to same-sex couples.

On the other hand, anti-marriage equality groups have proposed two other draft bills, which aim at using "same-sex union" and "same-sex familial relationship" to define a homosexual relationship, while only permitting a form of guardianship. One of the proposals even allows family members or relatives within three degrees of kinship from either side to request the annulment of homosexual relationships under the pretext of fake unions.

Read more: Taiwan LGBT activists press for right to marry

No consensus

Hoping to reach a consensus on several controversial clauses, legislators gathered on Tuesday to closely review all three draft bills. However, discussions almost broke down after an opposition legislator backing one of the conservative draft laws claimed that he couldn't accept the government's version and demanded that his proposal be forwarded to the legislative session scheduled for Friday.

Additionally, legislators also failed to reach an agreement on critical issues such as the kind of relationship gay couples were permitted to have, how they would refer to each other and whether a person could adopt his or her partner's non-biological children. Since all three draft bills failed to address the issue of transnational partnerships, one of the opposition parties, New Power Party (NPP), proposed to exempt same-sex couples from government regulations that didn't allow Taiwanese LGBTQ individuals to have a legitimate relationship with partners from countries where gay marriage was not permitted.

On the same day, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen came out to support the government's draft bill, calling it a version that combined demands from all sides. She admitted that same-sex marriage remained a highly divisive issue in Taiwan, but also called on all sides to respect different opinions.

Life-changing: Taiwan rules in favor of gay marriage

Daphne & Kenny: 'Once the law passes, we have further protection'

Daphne and Kenny are getting married at the end of the year. Five months after Kenny went on her knees to propose to Daphne at a rally of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples on Taipei's largest boulevard, both are trying on wedding outfits. Until now, same-sex couples in some Taiwanese jurisdictions were able to register as partners…

Life-changing: Taiwan rules in favor of gay marriage

Daniel Cho and Chin Tsai: 'we will be the first in line'

…although the rights available to them were often limited compared to married heterosexual couples. This couple is hopeful: "Daniel relocated to New York for his job, but since the Taiwanese government doesn't recognize our relationship, I can’t apply for a spousal visa to go with him. If the law passes, we will be the first in line to the registry of marriages."

Life-changing: Taiwan rules in favor of gay marriage

Hare Lin & Cho Chia-lin: 'Taiwan can be changed'

Hare Lin, who works as a publisher and Cho Chia-lin, a writer, believe in an open minded world: "When I first held the gay parade in 2003, there were only around a thousand people, but a few years later, the march was attended by 50 to 60 thousand," Lin says. "Also there are gay artists, politicians, council members, and even a presidential candidate. I believe this world can be changed."

Life-changing: Taiwan rules in favor of gay marriage

Gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei: 'will continue our efforts'

Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen, whose cabinet includes the island's first transgender minister, said on Twitter: "Resolving differences is a start - more dialogue and understanding are needed." Gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei (pictured above) approves: "If Taiwan refuses to improve, we will continue our efforts and make a rainbow country. Even a revolution."

Life-changing: Taiwan rules in favor of gay marriage

Wang Yi & Meng Yu-mei: ' Taiwan is a democratic country'

Taiwan is famed for an annual gay pride parade that showcases the vibrancy of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Artist Wang Yi says: "You think we want to go through all of this hardship? We have difficult relationships with our parents. But I felt the discussion of same-sex marriage is what a free country should do under the rule of law. The discussion is fair."

Life-changing: Taiwan rules in favor of gay marriage

Huang Chen-ting & Lin Chi-xuan: 'fighting for fair treatment'

Huang Chen-ting and Lin Chi-xuan fool around: "We are the same as heterosexuals. Discrimination has taken many forms, from the skin color of black slaves in the past, to sexual orientation at the moment, but all of us are human beings. We all fight for fair treatment," Chi-xuan says. Recent polls showed a majority of the Taiwanese population supports same-sex marriage.

Life-changing: Taiwan rules in favor of gay marriage

Leber Li and Amely Chen: 'love between us is strong'

Leber Li drives with Amely Chen and their son Mork, in Yilan. "It was our dream to have children. We have a child through artificial insemination, but only one of us can be registered to be the mother. This is so unfair. The baby has the love of two mothers. It does not matter how a family is formed as long as there is love," Chen says.

Life-changing: Taiwan rules in favor of gay marriage

Huang Zi-ning and Kang Xin: 'We are the next generation'

Students Huang Zi-ning and Kang Xin pose for a selfie in Taoyuan. "Anti same-sex marriage groups say they are against us because they want to protect the next generation. But I am the next generation. Why do they listen to those who are about to die instead of our voices? We need to speak out," says Zi-ning.

The ruling party's credibility

Most anti-marriage equality campaigners do not approve of the draft bill proposed by the government, as the bill's second clause uses "same-sex marriage" to define homosexual relationships. In their opinion, it is clearly disrespectful of last year's referendum result. Yu Shin-yi of the Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation, an anti-gay marriage group, told DW that the government was "bullying" the public's opinion by proposing a draft bill that contained the word "marriage."

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According to her, the government's decision of not including referendum results from last year was "a clear sign that they are prioritizing political consideration over the public's collective opinions."

However, while the shape of the final legislation remains largely uncertain, gay rights activists are demanding that legislators focus on passing the government's draft bill on Friday. Jennifer Lu, chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, told DW that the government's version was already a "compromised version" for gay rights groups. She hoped the ruling party would make the right decision to back the government's draft bill. "After all, if the ruling party fails to pass the government's version on Friday, it'll be a big blow to their credibility," she said.

Taipei's commitment

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Web-videos | 24.05.2017

Taiwan says "yes" to gay marriage

Victoria Hsu, the chairperson of Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, thinks the legislative session on Friday will become a "voting competition" between different parties. For her, the inclusion of the phrase, "same-sex marriage," and same-sex couples' adoption rights would be a test of the ruling party's commitment to the issue.

"If the legislature decides to use 'same-sex union' or other names to define same-sex marriage, it could cause same-sex couples to not be properly registered as 'married couples,'" Hsu explained to DW, adding that this "would be a clear violation of the constitution, and if it happens, it would mean the ruling party has failed to effectively utilize its majority in the legislature."

Hsu vows to request for another constitutional court interpretation if the legislature passes a bill that doesn't grant same-sex couples full marriage rights. "The constitutional court's ruling in 2017 has clearly defined not giving same-sex couples the right to get married as unconstitutional, but If I have to take the same issue to the constitutional court again, I will do it," Hsu told DW. However, that would "make Taiwan a joke" globally, since it would mean repeating the whole process, she added.

Read more: Taiwan court first in Asia to approve gay marriage

Hsu thinks the government and ruling party should also consider possible political responses to Friday's legislative decision, emphasizing that many have been expecting the legislature to pass a same-sex marriage bill that would put a temporary end to discussions about the divisive issue in Taiwan.

"The LGBTQ community and their supporters would be very angry if the legislature passed a same-sex marriage bill that's unconstitutional," Hsu said, adding, "In that case, I think the controversy could have an impact on the 2020 presidential election and put Taiwan's civil society, LGBTQ community and the ruling party in disadvantageous positions."