Taiwan looks set to become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Lawmakers of the country’s ruling political party, the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) have introduced a new bill that would make marriage equality legal by removing gender from the constitution’s definition of marriage.
Yu Mei-nu, a lawmaker from the Democratic Progressive Party who is sponsoring the bill, says that “it’s a big step forward for the history of human rights. If Taiwan can get this passed… it will give other Asian countries a model.”
Efforts to make marriage equality legal in Taiwan have been ongoing since 2003 when proposed legislation that would allow same-sex marriages (and adoption by same-sex couples) faced opposition from the DPP and the ruling coalition led by conservative political party Kuomintang.
Since then, support for marriage equality has steadily grown, with a 2012 poll by Taiwanese publication United Daily News suggesting that 55% of people were in favour, and 37% against. The Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy group says that 80% of 20-29 year olds support marriage equality.
Several events in October pushed the issue as 80,000 people marched in a Pride parade in the capital city of Taipei (it’s the largest LGBT Pride parade in all of Asia), calling for marriage equality. Taiwan’s female president, DPP leader Tsai Ing-Wen voiced her support for same-sex marriage too.
The tragic suicide of Jacques Picoux also thrust the issue into the spotlight. The gay French teacher took his own life after his Taiwanese partner passed away from cancer; the teacher was unable to make decisions about his partner’s end of life care nor did he have a legal claim to their shared property as they were not legally married.
Taiwan’s religious beliefs lend themselves to progressive policies too. The majority of religious people in the country follow religions such as Buddhism and Taoism (an estimated 93% of the country’s religious people) which have no strict guidelines on same-sex partnerships.
Granted, the movement for marriage equality has been met with some opposition, with an anti-same-sex marriage protest recently taking place. The South China Morning Post notes that a Christian alliance came from southern Taiwan to Taipei to protest, with one pastor, Wang Tzu-hao, saying that “only a heterosexual marriage can create the possibility of bearing children and only then can we sustain the nation’s next generation.”
David Tseng, a spokesperson for The Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance said that “we are different from the West. In Eastern culture, we place great importance on filial piety to one’s father and mother. This is a virtue we must keep,” also asking for a referendum on the matter.
Despite this small amount of opposition, factors in the argument seem to be overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality passing. Pride Watch activist Cindy Su told The Guardian that “there are about 66 legislators who will probably vote yes on marriage equality” or a majority of 58.4%.
If the bill is successful, same-sex marriage could become legal in Taiwan early next year.
-words by Jasmine Henry