Thursday 22 August 2019

Taiwan becomes first Asian nation to approve same-sex marriage

Although claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan is a self-governing democracy with a vibrant civil society.

(Chiang Ying-ying/PA)
(Chiang Ying-ying/PA)

By Ralph Jennings, Associated Press

Officials in Taiwan have passed a law allowing same-sex marriage in a first for an Asian country.

The vote on Friday allows same-sex couples full legal marriage rights, including in areas such as taxes, insurance and child custody.

Taiwan’s acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships began in the 1990s when leaders in today’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society.

President Tsai Ing-wen, a supporter of the law, tweeted: “We took a big step toward true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

“It’s a breakthrough, I have to say so. I could not imagine that could happen in just a few years,” said Shiau Hong-chi, professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan.

“#Taiwan’s action today should sound a clarion call, kicking off a larger movement across #Asia to ensure equality for LGBT people and pro-active protection of their rights by governments throughout the region,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.

“No more excuses!”

Thousands of people, including same-sex couples, demonstrated on Friday morning in the rainy streets outside parliament before the vote.

Many carried rainbow-coloured placards reading “the vote cannot fail”.

About 50 opponents sat under a tent outside parliament and gave speeches favouring marriage between only men and women.

Same-sex marriage supporters cheer outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan (Chiang Ying-ying/AP)

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court in May 2017 said the constitution allows same-sex marriages and gave parliament two years to adjust laws accordingly.

The court order mobilised LGBT advocacy groups pushing for fair treatment, as well as opponents among church groups and advocates of traditional Chinese family values that stress the importance of marriage and producing offspring.

Religion, conservative values and political systems that discourage LGBT activism have stopped momentum toward same-sex marriage in many Asian countries from Japan through much of Southeast Asia, although Thailand is exploring the legalisation of same-sex civil partnerships.

Although claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan is a self-governing democracy with a vibrant civil society dedicated to promoting rights for sexual and ethnic minorities, women, the handicapped and others.

Ruled by the authoritarian Communist Party, China remains much more conservative and officials have repeatedly discouraged even the discussion of legalising same-sex marriage.

Opponents in Taiwan raised fears of incest, insurance scams and children confused by having two mothers or two fathers. Both sides of the issue have held colourful street demonstrations and lobbied lawmakers.

In November 2018, a majority of Taiwan voters rejected same-sex marriage in an advisory referendum.

However, legislators favouring the bill, and voting separately on each item largely along party lines, said it followed the law as well as the spirit of the referendum.

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