Taiwan Becomes First Asian Country to Allow Same-Sex Marriage

Many couples have begun to marry and hundreds more have already registered

May 28, 2019

In a historic first for Asia, lawmakers in Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage in a long-awaited milestone decision that took effect on May 24, 2019. The progressive island country is breaking new ground.

Hundreds of same-sex couples have registered to marry, and many weddings have already taken place. In Taiwan's capital Taipei, 20 gay couples shared a group wedding ceremony dubbed “the starting line of happiness.” According to Quartz, they walked down the aisle on a rainbow flag along with Taipei’s black-bear mascot to cheering crowds.

Taiwan has a large gay community, and Taipei holds the biggest gay pride parade in Asia, but marriage equality has not come easy.

In 2015, gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei filed a request for the Constitutional Court to rule on a section of the country's civil code that said marriage was between a man and a woman. Two years ago, the Court ruled that the existing law was unconstitutional, and the judges gave the parliament two years to either amend or enact new laws.

New legislation was passed on May 17, only a week before the two-year deadline.

The issue of marriage equality divided the country and in a referendum held in November of last year, 67 percent voted to reject same-sex marriage, according to CNN. Taiwan's Conservatives campaigned against changing the existing law and to enact legislation that allowed same-sex unions.

Three draft bills were proposed two versions backed by conservatives and a Cabinet bill that actually used the term marriage. The cabinet bill was backed by LGBTQ groups even though same-sex marriages were not given all the rights of heterosexual couples for adoption and cross-national marriage according to CNN.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in favor of the same-sex marriage legislation in the pouring rain while the legislature deliberated. 

The activists were elated when the bill passed but expressed reservations about the inequalities that still remained.

"Today the result was the best we got for this stage," Wu Tzu-an, a 33-year-old gay artist from Taipei told CNN outside of the parliament. "...Personally, I don't have plans to get married, but I think it's a sign for equality."

"For me the outcome today is not 100 percent perfect, but it's still pretty good for the gay community as it provides legal definition," Elias Tseng, a gay pastor told AFP news during the celebration outside parliament after the vote.

Many gay activists plan on continuing the struggle for full rights. "It's a very important moment, but we are going to keep on fighting. We are Taiwanese and we want this important value for our country, for our future," Jennifer Lu, chief coordinator of rights group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, told BBC.

"The Taiwanese government must not stop here. It needs to act to eliminate all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identities and intersex status," Amnesty International Taiwan's acting director Annie Huang told CNN.

Other parts of Asia are more conservative, but there has been some progress on LGBTQ rights. Vietnam decriminalized gay marriage celebrations in 2015 but does not offer full legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

More traditional China does not allow same-sex marriage, but homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997 and removed from the country's list of mental illnesses in 2000. Just last year, India's Supreme court ruled that gay sex is no longer a criminal offense.

While many of these are baby steps, at least they are going in the right direction. Hopefully, Taiwan will be a beacon of justice to other Asian countries and beyond.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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