Voters in Taiwan on November 24 approved referenda defining marriage between a man and a woman and curtailing LGBTQ education in schools, marking a political setback for the LGBTQ community there one year after that nation’s constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples had a right to marry.
But the legal ramifications remain unclear after what have been described as advisory votes.
The election in Taiwan culminated a confusing whirlwind of amendment proposals following the court’s 2017 decision, which ruled that the nation must amend the constitution or else its edict would become law within two years. Instead of full marriage equality, voters approved a separate status providing for same-sex unions.
Conservative groups, including US-based groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, responded to the court’s decision last year by placing referenda on the November ballot in an effort to stop marriage equality and — while they were at it — wipe out LGBTQ-focused education programs. LGBTQ advocates responded with ballot proposals of their own, but their response wasn’t enough.
Conservative groups had a significant financial advantage over LGBTQ rights advocates and used it to mount a multi-faceted advertising campaign. Taiwanese-American activist Lance Chen-Hayes told Gay City News earlier this month that banners were posted on buses and storefronts in Taiwan and flyers were handed out all around the nation.
Despite the election results, LGBTQ advocates voiced confidence that the 2017 ruling stands — and there has been no official word out of the government as to how the November 24 tally would affect the court’s mandate.
Freedom to Marry, which followed up on its successful effort to win marriage equality in the US by raising funds and awareness for the same purpose in Taiwan, said in a written statement that the “movement for marriage equality in Taiwan will not be deterred.”
“Nothing changes the clear mandate from the court: That by May 2019, lawmakers must update the civil code to allow same-sex couples to marry,” the statement said.
Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, which is a key LGBTQ rights group that helped lead the effort to mobilize voters ahead of the election — and benefitted from a recent fundraiser at the Stonewall Inn that brought in $5,000 — said in a written statement following the election that those who supported gay rights at the polls must ultimately help push the nation’s parliament to pass pro-equality initiatives.
No matter how the legality of marriage plays out in Taiwan, Amnesty International Taiwan’s acting director, Annie Huang, said moving forward there needs to be a strong focus on bolstering LGBTQ rights in Taiwan.
“The Taiwanese government needs to step up and take all necessary measures to deliver equality and dignity for all, regardless of who people love,” she said.