Today (May 24) was the first day that same-sex couples in Taiwan were allowed to legally marry, one week after its parliament legalized it.
Couples signed up at marriage registration offices from early in the morning around Taipei, some of them having already reserved in advance to do so. One of the busiest of these was the office in the capital’s Zhongzheng district. There, members of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, a group of lawyers who had represented same-sex couples suing for the right to marry, and one of the most active advocacy groups on the issue in Taiwan, gathered to wed.
Among the couples were the group’s executive director Victoria Hsu and her partner Chih-chieh Chien, who began their registration around 8.30am local time. Dressed in matching outfits, the two were swarmed by journalists and well-wishers, as rainbow flags adorned the desks of the registration office. Afterward, Hsu told Quartz that her organization’s work was not over.
“We still have to fight for co-adoption rights and transnational marriages,” she said, referring to the current law which doesn’t allow same-sex couples to adopt non-biological children, and which also bars same-sex couples from marrying in Taiwan if one party is from a jurisdiction where gay marriage is illegal.
Another couple, Nick van Halderen, 29, and his partner, Henry Chu, 35, awaited their turn to marry. Having already married in New Zealand in February, the two said they also wanted to marry in Taiwan for further legal protections.
“I feel very secure and it’s a really welcoming atmosphere, what with all the rainbow flags everywhere,” said van Halderen, a drag queen by night. He too, however, caveated that not everyone was able to fully take part in today’s events. “Considering the legal and political barriers, I think it’s great,” he said of Taiwan’s same-sex marriage bill, but said that he hoped one day all transnational couples would be allowed to marry.
One such couple who was present to witness the first same-sex marriages of the day were Alex Yu and Kris Yu. Kris, 40, is Taiwanese while her partner is from Shanghai. The two have been in a long-distance relationship for two years because they have not been able to marry—under the law in Taiwan in its current form, they still are unable to do so. Still, Alex, 32, flew from Shanghai a day ago just to be present in today’s celebrations. As representatives of an organization called Taiwan Transnational Marriage Equality Alliance, they say they will continue to advocate for the rights of all couples to get married in Taiwan regardless of nationality.
At another event in Taipei’s Xinyi district, 20 gay couples took part in a group wedding ceremony called “the starting line of happiness.” They—as well as Taipei’s black-bear mascot—walked down a makeshift aisle on a rainbow flag in a park adjacent to the Taipei 101 skyscraper to cheering crowds that included diplomats from Canada and European countries.
One person, however, stood out above everyone else—Chi Chia-wei, a 60-year-old gay man who has been at the forefront of Taiwan’s crusade for LGBT rights since the 1980s, when the country was still ruled by a military dictatorship. Chi served 126 days in jail in 1986 for being gay.
Wrapped in a rainbow flag and adorned with a rainbow headband and tie, Chi was flanked by supporters and journalists eager to hear from the man whose litigation arguably kickstarted Taiwan’s road to marriage equality, a historic first for Asia. In 2015, Chi sued for marriage equality in Taiwan’s constitutional court once again, after multiple failed attempts. That lawsuit led to a decision by the court in May 2017 that ruled that marriage in its current form in Taiwan that excluded same-sex couples was unconstitutional, and gave Taiwan’s legislature a two-year deadline by which it must enact legislation to allow same-sex marriage.
Chi also curiously had many teddy bears pinned to his clothes. He explained that he was inspired by a Native American chief called Ten Bears. “Bears are very strong animals,” said Chi. “I have 18 bears on me today. I’m stronger than him.”