For some time now, Taiwan seems to have been on the verge of becoming the first in Asia to legalize gay marriage. Earlier today, the island’s top court began hearing a landmark case which could turn that dream into a long-awaited reality.
A panel of 14 grand justices will be looking closely at a single line in Taiwan’s Civil Code which says that an agreement to marry should be made between “a man and a woman.” Authorities in Taiwan have been using this clause to reject applications for same-sex marriages, but critics say that it goes against the guarantees of equality and freedom of marriage that are made in Taiwan’s constitution.
Two petitions have been brought forward for debate: one by the city government of Taipei, which said that it has received an increased number of requests from same-sex couples to register marriages; and the other from veteran LGBT rights activist Chi Chia-wei who has seen his efforts to get his own marriage recognized fail again and again.
A ruling in the case is expected within two months. If the decision favors gay rights supporters, then it would effectively legalize same-sex marriage in Taiwan, experts say.
On Friday morning, gay marriage supporters showed up outside the court in Taipei, waving rainbow flags, shouting slogans and holding up signs. In recent months, activists on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate have taken to the streets to make their voices heard.
Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that Taiwanese society has its roots in Confucianism, which promotes a strong adherence to traditional family values, and of course, producing offspring. They argue that the fundamental concept of marriage should be between a man and a woman, otherwise it would be “very confusing for children.”
“Now they want to amend the law to do away with the ‘father’ and ‘mother’ altogether,” David Tseng, the alliance’s spokesman told AFP last November. “We are different from the West. In Eastern culture, we place great importance on filial piety to one’s father and mother. This is a virtue we must keep.”
The first draft of a bill to legalize gay marriage was passed by Taiwan’s parliament last December. The bill is now due for a second reading.
The topic of marriage equality was first raised by Taiwan’s executive branch in 2003, but encountered fierce opposition from cabinet members and conservatives from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party. However, last January, the Democratic Progressive Party won a sweeping victory at the polls, taking over Taiwan’s legislature and presidency, giving gay rights activists renewed hope.
Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen has openly voiced her support for gay marriage. During the Pride celebrations in 2015, Tsai posted a video to her Facebook page backing marriage equality. All Taiwanese should have “the freedom to love and choose their own happiness,” Tsai’s message read.
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