Becoming the first Asian country to legally recognize same-sex marriages offered Taiwan the chance to host an absolutely fabulous mass wedding.
Taiwan is now the first country in Asia to legally recognize same-sex unions. On May 24, Taiwan’s legislature voted 66 to 27 to federally recognize same-sex marriages. The proceedings were live-streamed for the 40,000 demonstrators outside the Taiwanese Parliament, who erupted into jubilant roars when the results were announced.
Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen, who included marriage reform in her campaign platform, congratulated her country and its LGBTQ activists, who have fought for marriage equality for two decades.
“Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society,” Ing-Wen tweeted. “Today, we can show the world that #LoveWins.”
A day after its passage, a mass wedding was held in the Taipei presidential palace to consummate the new law. Organizers opened up online registration to potential newlyweds and by the end of the day, 526 couples throughout Taiwan registered.
The event included a joint wedding of 20 couples, and featured several stage performances along the blocked-off boulevard outside the presidential office. The crowd included more than just family and close friends; at least 1,600 guests attended, with several hundred more picnicking outside the venue’s perimeter. From activists to foreign diplomats, guests ranging from across the world came to show their support for the new legislation.
In 2017, Taiwan’s Council of Grand Justices ruled that forbidding the marriage of same sex couples violated their constitution, and set a two-year deadline for parliament to pass a corresponding law, or else same-sex marriage would become legal automatically.
This court order mobilized LGBTQ advocacy groups pushing for fair treatment, as well as opposition church groups and advocates of traditional values associated with Chinese heritage. Mainland China, despite a rich history of sexual and gender diversity dating back to the Ming Dynasty, remains singularly conservative under communist rule, and officials have discouraged any talks of legalizing same-sex marriage.
“We need to take responsibility for the referendum last year, and we need to take responsibility for people who have suffered from incomplete laws or faced discrimination,” ruling party legislator Hsiao Bi-khim said during the three-hour parliament session on May 24.
Opponents in Taiwan feared the law would shelter malfeasance; incest, insurance scams, and children confused by having two mothers or two fathers were all concerns raised leading up to the vote. And though compromises were made in the bill — adoption is forbidden except when the child is a blood relative of one of the parents, and marriage rights are limited solely to Taiwanese citizens and spouses from countries that have also legalized same-sex marriage — conservative groups are concerned this bill will result in disorder.
“This is going to cause a lot of morality problems,” said Lin Shih-min, a spokesperson for Taiwan political action group Stability of Power, which opposed the law. “From the point of view of the children, they have the right to grow up with both a mother and a father.”
But despite mounting pressures, the bill still guarantees couples’ tax, insurance and child custody benefits already available to male-female unions- previous ailments many faced, such as trying to navigate affordable healthcare.
“They don’t need to worry about that any more,” Bi-khim told the South China Morning Post after the passage of the bill. “After today, there is no need for them to face discriminatory treatment from others.”
Taiwan in recent years has become a more liberal country, especially in comparison to nearby Asian nations. Although claimed by China as a territory, Taiwan has in recent years strived to become a self-governing democracy.
The country’s acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships began in the 1990s, when leaders in today’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society.
Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter that Taiwan’s action should “sound a clarion call, kicking off a larger movement across Asia to ensure equality for LGBT people and proactive protection of their rights by governments throughout the region. No more excuses!”
Religion, conservative values and political systems that discourage LGBTQ activism have lost momentum in many Asian countries, from Japan through much of Southeast Asia, which means it is likely other countries will soon follow suit.
“This will help spark a debate in Thailand, and hopefully will help Thailand move faster on our own partnership bill,” said Wattana Keiangpa of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health.
With this ruling, Taiwan’s January 2020 presidential election will prove contentious, with the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) seeking to dethrone President Tsai Ing-wen and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). But for now, activists and lawmakers alike are taking the time to savor the landmark ruling and join in on the celebrations.
Top Photo via Tsai Ing-Wen/Twitter