Same-sex marriages will be legally recognized in Taiwan a week from now, after the new law passed today by the country’s Constitutional Court comes into effect. Taiwan is the first country on the Asian continent to legalize same-sex marriage and only the third nation in the whole of the Asia-Pacific region to enact such progressive policies.
“On May 17th, 2019 in Taiwan, #LoveWon. We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country” tweeted Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen after the vote.
Passing with an impressive 66 to 27 majority, the law is being seen as a big win for the majority Democratic Progressive Party. Conservatives who battled for years against the bill have been left angry and with little recourse.
Three different law proposals were originally submitted to the legislature for consideration. Ultimately, the most liberal of the three bills, referring to same-sex partnerships specifically as ‘marriages’, was accepted by the Constitutional Court. The new law will become standard practice throughout the country next week, on May 24, 2019.
The Lead Up to Asia’s First Same-sex Marriage Law
In 2017, the Constitutional Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to prohibit same-sex couples to marry and take advantage of the same legal benefits of marriage as other couples. Lawmakers argued that denying same-sex couples the right to marry resulted in the denial of their inalienable rights to personal freedom and equal protection under the law. At that time, the Court ruled that the government had two years to resolve the issue and create a legal framework for moving forward.
Getting the bill passed was no easy feat. Although Taiwan is billed as a relatively progress country in comparison to other Asian countries, a significant number of conservatives strongly disagreed with the bill. Activists and legislators have spent the last two years lobbying decision makers in a lead up to today’s vote. Last November, the government hosted a national referendum to gauge citizens’ approval of same-sex marriage. The response was dismal, indicating that a majority did not support same-sex marriage.
Despite the result of today’s outcome being far from certain, lawmakers persisted in having the vote. “I’m very surprised – but also very happy. It’s a very important moment in my life,” Jennifer Lu, a leader of LGBTQ rights group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan told the BBC. On the day of the vote, more than 35,000 people braved the rain to turn up on the streets outside the Taipei parliament building to show their support, or at times derision, for the law.
What’s Included in the Law, and What’s Not
The law passed on Friday, officially known as Enforcement Act of Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748, allows two adults of the same sex who are aged 18 years of age or older to register their marriage with local authorities under the observation of at least two witnesses.
Under this law, a spouse can adopt the biological children of his or her partner and act as his or her legal agent when required, like for medical consultations. Spouses can also inherit the property of their partner. Couples with a spouse who is a citizen in a country that does not recognize same-sex marriage cannot register under this new legislation, however
Why this Law Matters
Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, hosts Asia’s largest annual gay pride event every October. With over 80,000 people flooding the city’s streets to take part in the festivities, there is no doubt that Taiwan is a rare bastion for sexual liberation and fluidity on the Asian continent. Passage of this legislation in spite of the disheartening referendum results seen just last year demonstrates the population’s rapidly changing opinions on social issues and government regulation.
No agreement was made behind the scenes or otherwise to address the need for gender equality education in the country’s schools and public institutions. Failing to address the gender biases and harmful stereotypes that lead to homophobia will make it nearly impossible for progressive policies to take root in the country. Even more, failing to grant transnational couples the right to register presents another sticking point for many supporters. As a result, LGBTQ and gender equality activists still see a long road ahead before they can truly celebrate a victory.
For the time being, the Taiwanese government can bask in the limelight of being the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Leaders and citizens of dozens of other countries around the world have already shown their support for the law and the country’s progressive stance. There’s little doubt that normalizing same-sex couples is a step in the right direction. How far this step takes the country will depend on whether enough people stop to question why discrimination towards this group existed in the first place.
Regardless of the law’s impact on the Taiwanese people themselves, the passage of the legislation will most likely have a positive impact on the region and especially surrounding countries. While some Asian countries are well known for their unequal and discriminatory laws, Taiwan is now setting an important legal precedent on which other governments will be able to model their own legislation. While the country cannot be seen as a safe haven for transnational couples from the region due to its lack of inclusion of protection for some international spouses, it will be used as the new standard for which neighboring countries have to compare themselves to.