An amendment to include same-sex marriage in the country’s Civil Code passed a preliminary review by the Committee of the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s Parliament) on Dec. 26.
The process began last October when a group of Democratic Progressive Party legislators in Taipei pledged to legalize same-sex marriage. They worked with a coalition of LGBT-friendly groups, including the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights and Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBT) Hotline Association to develop the amendment.
Same-sex couples can legally register their partnerships in 11 of Taiwan’s cities and counties that account for 80 percent of the country’s population. But under the current legal system; there are as many as 498 exclusive rights related to marriage that include property rights, social welfare and medical care.
“The current household registration cannot be viewed as an alternative of marriage,” Victoria Hsu, president of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, told the Washington Blade.
She does, however, believe household registration has “exerted pressures on the central government to speed up reforms.”
As well as the legalization of same-sex marriage, these reforms also include two other proposed amendments to Taiwan’s Civil Code. One is a civil partnership between two persons regardless of their sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. The other would allow two or more cohabiting and non-blood related people to register as family members.
Hsu explained why it’s important to provide people legal protections without having to get married.
“The current institution of marriage in Taiwan is not perfect,” she said. “Taiwan is one of the few countries in the world that still criminalizes adultery. Furthermore, divorce could be difficult.”
So if this is the case, why are they still fighting for marriage equality?
“The marriage equality movement is not only about the fight for the specific rights related to marriage but also for the entitlement to be treated as ‘normal people/equal citizens’ by the laws of the state,” she said.
The introduction of the bills has not been without opposition.
The anti-LGBT Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families Taiwan, a Western-inspired religious fundamentalist group, has vowed to protest the change.
“What gay activists want is for their lifestyle to be affirmed by society, but why do they need to change the traditional institution of marriage, which goes back thousands of years?” said Chang Shou-yi, the group’s leader, in a statement.
Some have called for a referendum on the issue, with polls taken late last year showing opposition to same-sex marriage rising from 45.4 to 56 percent.
President Tsai Ing-wen, however, says the debate around same-sex marriage has moved on.
“We are in the same situation right now and we are handling this step by step,” she said. “In the previous stage we saw conflict, but now we are turning to dialogue.”
Tsai is Taiwan’s first female president.
She took office in May 2016 with a strong, pro-LGBT stance.
“I am Tsai Ing-wen, and I support marriage equality,” she said in a video posted on Facebook in 2015. “Every person should be able to look for love freely, and freely seek their own happiness.”
“I think the current government takes a stronger position than ever for LGBT equality,” Wayne Lin, chair of Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBT) Hotline Association, told the Blade.
Lin feels that most LGBT adults in Taiwan can “live a real LGBT life in private but not necessary in public.”
He has, however, seen “more acceptance along the process.”
“Without heterosexual people’s support, it is unlikely for us to have around 300K people participating our event on Dec. 10,” added Lin, referring to one of three events organized by the coalition to build up support for the bills.
Though Democratic Progressive Party Caucus Whip Ker Chien-ming believes the bills “will be passed” in 2017, Hsu feels that “there is still a lot of work to be done before we can celebrate true victory.”
“There is still uncertainty as to the passage of marriage equality bill and its final content,” said Hsu.
Liu shares this sentiment.
“Frankly speaking, we are just in the middle of legalizing same-sex marriage,” he said. “When and whether the Civil Code amendment or separate same-sex-only partner/marriage (bills) will be passed in the Legislative Yuan is still highly uncertain.”
Tsai asked after the protests that we “not treat the people around us as enemies,” though Hsu feels they will still impact the bills.
“The two bills, in my opinion, have made some compromises in the hopes to overcome the objections of anti-LGBTIQ groups,” she said.
Hsu has, at least, been able to put a positive spin on the negativity.
“If discrimination was never revealed, identified, reviewed and debated, we would never have the opportunity to end it,” she said.