What Taiwan’s Same-Sex Marriage Law Means for Asia

(Taipei) On  24 May, Asia’s first same-sex marriage legislation goes into effect in Taiwan. Advocates for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities on the continent tell InsideOver it’s a step forward, but there’s more work to do.

The law allows many same-sex couples on the self-ruled island to form “exclusive permanent unions” with “marriage registration.”

Lawmakers passed the legislation 66-27 on 17 May, following a Constitutional Court decision in 2017 that ruled the civil code, which defined marriage to be between a man and a woman, to be unconstitutional. The court gave two years to write new legislation, or modify the civil code. Taiwanese voters rejected modification in a series of referendums in 2018.

Same-sex marriage is now legal between Taiwanese, mainland Chinese or foreigners whose countries recognize same-sex marriage.

China – which claims the island as its own – does not recognize same-sex marriage. But due to existing regulations on cross-strait relations, mainland Chinese in Taiwan would also be legally eligible to enter into same-sex marriages with Taiwanese, according to a legal expert with the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights. A spokesperson for Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said that it needs to sort out the process with Taiwan’s Ministry of Interior, and did not provide a timeline.

© Andrew Silver: Demonstration outside Legislative Yuan, Taipei, Taiwan, 17 May 2019

In Taiwan, A Push Forward

Peng Chih-Liu, the Vice Secretary General of the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, says most rights and interests are included in the version of the bill that passed on 17 May, but there are still exceptions. Including the right of same sex-couples to use assisted reproduction, adoption if there is no biological relation with at least one partner, and marriage with foreigners from places that do not-recognize same-sex marriage.

Amber, a Taiwanese university student in Taipei who attended a demonstration outside the legislative building with her girlfriend on 17 May, says because of the two-year delay in legalization and referendums against same-sex marriage in 2018, she didn’t think it would pass. But she’s very surprised and happy that it did, even if it doesn’t give full equal rights to couples such as full adoption rights.

She says in her heart it feels like it is normal for anyone to marry and can’t understand why some people are against same-sex marriage. After the law passed, she went to ask her grandmother her thoughts, and she says her grandmother still wasn’t able to accept it. Perhaps she never will, she says.

“[We] need to give everyone a bit of time,” she says.

Struggling Across Asia

Ryan Silverio, regional coordinator for the ASEAN SOGIE Caucaus in Quezon City, Philippines, which represents LGBT groups across southeast Asia, says communities face “economic marginalization, repressive laws, increasing extremist views… and the rise of right-wing regimes.”

“We celebrate in solidarity but mindful of an on-going struggle we have to overcome,” he says.

Lucetta Kam, an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University and author of Shanghai Lalas: Female Tongzhi Communities and Politics in Urban China, says that due to “very strong local opposition forces,” mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong “currently all do not have any legal ordinances that recognise or protect people with different sexual orientations or gender identifications.”

The South China Morning Post reported this week that Hong Kong’s MTR Corp and Hong Kong International Airport had even banned a Cathay Pacific airlines ad depicting two men holding hands. MTR Corp did not respond to a request for comment, but a spokesperson for the Airport Authority (AA) of Hong Kong said it “has informed its agency for handling advertisement applications that the AA deems the visual not in infringement of the AA’s established guidelines on advertisements displayed in the terminal.”

But some are optimistic.

Ah Qiang, the executive director of PFLAG China (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of China) in Guangzhou, says that the legalization of same sex marriage in Taiwan is good for mainland China’s LGBT community.

He says because Taiwan and mainland China share Confucian culture and customs, there is reason for the public in mainland China to believe the culture can be accepting. Plus, exchanges are increasing in this generation, and he thinks that when mainland Chinese tourists visit Taiwan, and see the friendliness towards the LGBT community, it will change their views on the topic.