Taiwan Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage—a First for Asia

Activists hope the law will inspire similar pushes for equality in other parts of the continent

Taiwan legalizes same-sex marriage
Photograph from the 2015 LGBTQ Pride celebration. Upward of 60 000 people took to the streets of Taipei for the annual Pride march, the largest such event in Asia. Craig Ferguson/LightRocket via Getty Images

It was a jubilant scene in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei on Friday after lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The country is now the first place in Asia to implement a “comprehensive law” permitting same sex unions, according to the Associated Press.

Equality advocates celebrated outside the legislature, chanting, clapping and waving signs and rainbow flags, reports Austin Ramzy of the New York Times. “We took a big step towards true equality and made Taiwan a better country” President Tsai Ing-wen, who supported the new law, wrote on Twitter.

In 2017, Taiwan’s high court ruled that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the country’s constitution, and gave the government two years to come up with a law that would accommodate its decision. But it was a road to Friday’s historic vote. Lawmakers faced pressure from conservative groups opposed to same-sex marriage and in a series of referendums held last year, voters rejected the push to define marriage as anything other than an institution that exists between a man and a woman.

Parliament subsequently considered several different bills. One, submitted by conservative lawmakers, sought to define same-sex unions as “familiar relationships” and did not consider homosexual partners to be spouses, according to Nick Aspinwall of the Washington Post. Another bill contained a clause that would allow family members to request the annulment of same-sex unions. But it was legislation submitted by the majority Democratic Progressive Party that passed 66-27 on Friday.

In attempt to balance the outcomes of both the 2017 court ruling and the 2018 referendums, the new law allows same-sex couples to marry outside its civil code, which “governs” heterosexual marriages, Aspinwall reports. The government’s legislation was also the only one of the proposed bills that granted same-sex couples limited adoption rights, allowing them to adopt blood relatives.

Jennifer Lu, chief coordinator of the advocacy group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, told the BBC that activists “still need to fight for co-adoption rights” and noted that it is not yet clear what the new legislation means for cross-national marriages. Still, she said she “very happy” that the law passed.

Starting on May 24, same-sex couples will be able to officially register their marriages. The AP reports that at least 20 couples are planning a mass ceremony on that day, followed by a party outside the presidential office.

Though its same-sex marriage legislation has been a long time coming, Taiwan is known as a vibrant hub of LGBTQ life; the country is, for instance, home to Asia’s largest pride parade. In other parts of the continent, however, conservative political values still run deep. In a particularly dramatic example, Brunei this year made homosexual sex punishable by death—though, in the face of international pressure, it subsequently said that it would extend a moratorium on capital punishment to the new penal code. Officials in China, which asserts sovereignty over Taiwan, “have repeatedly discouraged even the discussion of legalizing same-sex marriage,” according to the AP.

But advocates have expressed hope that Taiwan’s new law will inspire similar pushes for equal rights in neighboring countries. “We hope this landmark vote will generate waves across Asia and offer a much-needed boost in the struggle for equality for LGBTI people in the region” says Annie Huang, acting director of Amnesty International Taiwan. “We are filled with pride and joy that from next Friday same-sex couples in Taiwan will be able to marry and finally have their love and relationships recognized as equal under the law.”

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