In a landmark decision, the parliament of Taiwan has voted to legalize gay marriage. Not only is it the first legislative body in Asia to do so but the BBC also reports that lawmakers have approved the most “progressive” of three potential bills.
“It’s a very important moment, but we are going to keep on fighting. We are Taiwanese and we want this important value for our country, for our future,” said Jennifer Lu, who is the chief coordinator of the rights group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan.
What Led to This
In 2017, Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled to legalize gay marriage and gave the government a two-year deadline for doing so. May 24th was the day by which lawmakers had to approve changes; otherwise, says The Washington Post, same-sex marriage would have been legalized automatically.
In a series of referendums in November 2018, Taiwanese voters were asked whether marriage should continue to be defined as between one man and one woman or whether it should include gay couples. Voters overwhelmingly voted against same-sex marriage. Out of about 10.5 million votes, over 7.6 million were in favor of marriage continuing to be defined as between one man and one woman.
Yet even before those votes came in, the government said that the referendums would not sway the fact that, per the court’s ruling, it would legalize same-sex marriage. Some feared, however, that the population’s disapproval of gay marriage would result in the legislature passing a more restrictive bill.
But the approved bill, which passed by a vote of 66 to 27, was the most generous in terms of the rights it allows. It is the only one of the three that used the term “marriage” (versus “union” or “relationship”) and it provides for some adoption rights for gay couples. It does not, however, protect Taiwanese nationals who wish to marry people from countries that have not legalized gay mariage. Jennifer Lu told the BBC, “I’m very surprised—but also very happy. It’s a very important moment in my life. However, it’s still not full marriage rights; we still need to fight for co-adoption rights, and we are not sure about foreigner and Taiwanese marriage, and also gender equality education.”
One result the 2018 referendum did have was to lead lawmakers not to alter the definition of marriage as defined in its civil law, but to create a special, separate law instead. According to The Washington Post, “Taiwan’s new law grants same-sex couples the right to marry outside its civil code, which governs marriage rights for heterosexual couples.” The purpose of this decision was to comply with the constitutional court’s ruling as well as to acknowledge the voters’ wishes as seen in the referendum.
Many are celebrating the decision, including Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen. On the day of the decision, she tweeted, “Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society.”
Good morning #Taiwan. Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society.
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) May 17, 2019
After the ruling was announced, the president posted another tweet, saying, “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”
One of the reasons Taiwan’s decision is significant is because of how conservative cultures in Asia tend to be. For example, same-sex marriage is illegal in China. Same-sex marriage celebrations were illegal in Vietnam until 2015, and gay sex was illegal in India until 2018.
Gay rights supporters, as reported by the BBC, hope that Taiwan will become a trailblazer for other governing bodies in Asia: “Taiwan’s action today should sound a clarion call, kicking off a larger movement across Asia to ensure equality for LGBT people.”