TAIPEI – A Taipei court on Wednesday ruled in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, paving the way for Taiwan to become the first nation in Asia to legalize same-sex unions and cementing its status as a beacon for LGBT rights.
Taiwan’s top court found the country’s Civil Code, which states that only a man and a woman can agree to marry, violated constitutional guarantees. It gave the legislative assembly two years to implement the change.
The decision is a victory for Taiwan’s LGBT activists, who have fought for decades for marriage equality, inspiring similar struggles across Asia and around the world.
Wayne Lin, chairperson of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, an influential nongovernmental organization, called it a “milestone” for Taiwan.
It is also a milestone for the region, gay rights activists said. “Without a doubt, Taiwan is walking in front of other Asian countries on this,” said Ying Xin, executive director of Beijing LGBT Center. “This is significant for all of Asia.”
Taiwan has long been seen as a leader on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. While Indonesia arrests and beats gay people, Singapore criminalizes gay sex and the People’s Republic of China cracks down on LGBT organizing, Taiwan has taken steps toward equality.
Gender and sexual minorities in Taiwan still face stigma and discrimination, but school textbooks extol equality, gays and lesbians serve openly in the military and Taipei’s annual gay pride parade draws revelers from every corner of the earth.
Taiwanese often credit this to the country’s syncretic mix of cultural influences, from indigenous groups, to Dutch and Japanese colonizers, to folk practices carried across the Taiwan strait.
But the groundswell of support for marriage equality has tested Taiwan’s reputation for tolerance, spurring a bitter backlash.
Over the last year, religious groups have mobilized against marriage equality, claiming, contrary to evidence, that same-sex marriage threatens children and families.
Led by church groups, anti-gay rights campaigners have resorted to inaccurate tropes about homosexuality, trying to link marriage rights to incest, bestiality and AIDS. At one point, a concerned group warned that same-sex marriage law would mean “it’s possible to marry a Ferris wheel.”
Part of their strategy has been to argue that protecting the rights of gender and sexual minorities is somehow Western, that marriage equality threatens what it means to be “Chinese” or “Taiwanese.”
At the last major court hearing on marriage equality, Taiwan’s justice minister, Chiu Tai-san, claimed same-sex relationships are a “newly invented phenomenon” unlike “social norms and mechanisms formed by the people of our nation over the past thousand years.” (He did not specify what nation he was referring to.)
He also asked the court to consider how same-sex marriage might complicate the rites of ancestor worship. “What are we going to write on the ancestral tablets if same-sex marriage is legalized?” he asked.
LGBT campaigners never bought the notion that marriage rights are somehow “un-Chinese,” or, indeed, “un-Taiwanese” — and believe the ruling will bolster their fight more broadly.
“China and Taiwan speak a common language,” said Li Maizi, a prominent Chinese feminist and LGBT activist, This will inspire the LGBT movements’ push for gay marriage.”
Matthew Huang, founder of a LGBT group in the Chinese city of Chengdu said, simply, “It’s hope.”
In Taipei, activists will now turn their attention to shaping how legislators interpret the ruling and what that means for same-sex couples and families.
There is some fear among campaigners that lawmakers will appease the “anti” camp by creating a special category for same-sex unions. In a news release issued after the ruling, Wayne Lin of the Tongzhi Hotline Association urged lawmakers to move without “hesitation” to amend the civil code to guarantee full equality.
For now, supporters of same-sex marriage are celebrating with new, engagement-inspired tagline: “Taiwan says yes!”
By Shirley Feng, Concong Zhang and Luna Lin reported from Beijing.