Taiwan’s LGBT community will have to settle for equal but different marriage laws

Is this equality?
Is this equality?
Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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Taiwan’s LGBT community won’t be getting true marriage equality.

Following the defeat of referendums in support of same-sex marriage last weekend, Taiwan’s ruling party said yesterday (Nov. 29) that gay couples will be allowed to marry (link in Chinese) under the establishment of a separate law, rather than by revising the current law to redefine marriage following the votes.

Three motions put forward by conservative groups against gay marriage, including one that sought to restrict marriage to between a man and a woman, were all accepted. Opposing referendums submitted by pro-LGBT groups, including one that proposed rewriting the civil code to enshrine true marriage equality, failed. Supporters of same-sex marriage argue that unless the law is changed, gay couples will not be accorded the same benefits and legal protections as heterosexual couples.

Taiwan’s top court ruled in May 2017 that restricting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional, and that marriage equality must be legalized within two years, either through changing the civil code or the implementation of a separate law. If no legislative action is taken, gay couples would be allowed to register their marriages automatically under existing law. Many felt hopeful Taiwan’s march to becoming the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage would proceed unimpeded, with president Tsai Ing-wen herself voicing support for marriage equality.

As time went on, however, it became clear that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was not going to take the initiative to follow through with any legislative action, as it tried to maintain popular support in the run-up to crucial local elections, which took place last weekend. That allowed conservative groups to whip up anti-LGBT sentiments in Taiwan—for example through the dissemination of misinformation on social media—and launch referendums in a bid to derail marriage equality. The DPP also suffered heavy losses in the local elections.

A spokesperson for the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan and Gender Equity Education Coalition, umbrella groups promoting LGBT rights, said in a statement to Quartz that any new law allowing same-sex marriage should follow the ruling laid down by the constitutional court and protect the freedom to marry for gay couples, and called on the government to “end the chaos” and family divisions caused by the referendums.

Chi Jia-wei—a pioneer of gay rights in Taiwan and the plaintiff whose legal challenge brought about the court’s landmark decision—said that (link in Chinese) he would fully support the establishment of a separate law if the government and anti-marriage-equality groups would allow it to accord same-sex couples the same privileges given to heterosexual couples.

Taiwan’s chief justice Hsu Tzong-li added that (link in Chinese) the marital rights of sexual minorities are protected under Taiwan’s constitution. He noted that just because a separate law might be enacted doesn’t mean the rights of such couples were not equal if the law were designed appropriately.

This story has been updated with comment from the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan and Gender Equity Education Coalition.