Lawmakers in Taiwan on May 17 voted to approve same-sex marriage rights, making the island nation the first country in Asia to win marriage equality.
The legislature, led by the Democratic Progressive Party under President Tsai Ing-Wen, voted in favor of a bill proposed by the government — one of three different but related pieces of legislation that were under consideration — that gave same-sex couples the right to marry. Taiwain’s Constitutional Court struck down the ban on marriage equality two years ago and gave lawmakers until May 24 of this year to pass a law allowing same-sex couples to marry.
During that two-year timeframe, however, religious conservative groups such as the homophobic US-based National Organization for Marriage infiltrated the nation by pumping millions of dollars into ad campaigns opposing the effort to legalize marriage by same-sex couples. That propaganda push appeared to have made a difference last year when voters approved referenda defining marriage between a man and a woman and scaling back LGBTQ education in schools.
But activists and LGBTQ groups such as Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, as well as American groups including Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign, and others, pushed back by mobilizing folks in Taiwan and raising money through fundraisers, including one held at the Stonewall Inn last November.
Activists on the ground viewed the bill that passed as the most desirable one for the LGBTQ community, even as it came with notable caveats — couples are only able to adopt the biological children of their spouse and cannot co-adopt — but the alternative bills only provided rights for civil union partnerships.
Jennifer Lu, the chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Taiwan, told Gay City News that the LGBTQ community on the island is feeling a sense of relief after three decades of advocacy on the issue. Lu played a major leadership role in campaigning for marriage equality and appeared at the Stonewall Inn event last year via video.
“This moment marks the legal recognition of LGBT rights and represents a historical milestone of the LGBT movement in Taiwan,” Lu said just hours after the vote took place. “The fight for equality does not stop here. We will continue to fight against bullying, discrimination, and defend gender equality education.”
Lu further praised the President Tsai Ing-wen, who had stood up for marriage rights despite weathering a rough political climate last year when she resigned from her post as the leader of the DPP after suffering significant losses in the midterm election.
“Throughout her campaign, President Tsai embraced marriage equality and promised that her administration would be a leader in making it a reality,” she said. “Today we offer our special thanks to her for keeping that promise.”
Taiwanese-American activist Lance Chen-Hayes, who spoke at the Stonewall Inn fundraiser last November, conceded that “it’s not a perfect bill” and will present not only adoption-related limitations for LGBTQ folks but will lead to challenges in immigration rights. At the same time, he stressed that its passage marks an important step forward for LGBTQ rights in Taiwan and around the world.
“It’s time to celebrate this historical moment,” Chen-Hayes told Gay City News. “Taiwain is the democracy beacon in Asia and we will continue to fight for equal rights in other areas for all LGBTQ folks.”
Couples will be able to begin getting married on May 24.