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Let Freedom Ring | © Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr
Let Freedom Ring | © Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr

Will Taiwan Pave the Way for Other Asian Countries to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage?

Picture of Ciaran McEneaney
Updated: 14 June 2017

A landmark ruling by Taiwan’s high court this week looks to have cleared the way for local legislators to legalize same-sex marriage in the near future. But will the ruling and the expected changes to the law encourage other nations in the region to follow suit?

The local LGBT community has, in recent years, often found itself entrenched in both legal and moral battles with the courts and authorities over what constitutes a legal union. And after countless attempts, they have finally found a glimmer of hope through the lawsuit brought by gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei.

Chi launched his lawsuit two years ago, but it was the suspected suicide of French professor Jacques Picoux that really brought this case into the public eye. Picoux was said to have been suffering from depression after the death of his partner of 35 years, Tseng Ching-chao. With no legal status as Tseng’s partner, Picoux had no legal claim over the home they shared but more importantly had no say in any of the medical decisions of his partner’s final moments of life.

Picoux’s is by no means an isolated case, with many people going through similar heartbreaking situations in recent years. However, the local LGBT community are determined that neither his nor any other deaths will be in vain, and Wednesday’s ruling has certainly proved the most positive step in the right direction yet in their struggle for equality.

In their ruling, the constitutional court declared that the Civil Code’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman is unconstitutional. This now means that the legislature has two years from the ruling to either amend the Civil Code or enact new laws that allow for same-sex couples to legally marry.

Although religious and parents’ groups will protest and lobby politicians to hold a referendum, the court has put the decision firmly in the hands of legislators. And it now seems unlikely that they will do anything but bring about a full change in the law.

While some groups are worried legislators may somewhat appease the naysayers by offering a basic recognition of marriage with no actual rights, Jay Lin, founder of Queermosa, and a leading voice in the Coalition for Marriage Equality hopes that is not the case. “My hope is that the legislators will grant full rights as that is the primary goal of our campaign. I think that the lawmakers know and understand that nothing less than full and equal marriage rights will do. As the court implied in its ruling, anything less is simply unconstitutional.”

Asked if he felt that this would lead to other countries in Asia following suit, Lin was emphatic in his reply “Absolutely! What is happening right now in Taiwan is giving hope to LGBT communities throughout Asia. It’s showing them that where there’s a will, there’s a way and if you really want to bring about change then you must make your feelings known to your local representatives. This is not just about equal marriage rights for same-sex couples but basic human rights also.”

In his efforts to ensure that everyone who supports equal marriage rights in Taiwan has a voice, Lin set up the Lightup Project. It’s a website that allows people to register their home address showing legislators that people in their electoral districts support marriage equality. Lin believes that such knowledge could prove pivotal, particularly for those lawmakers that are still on the fence regarding same-sex marriage.

As the first country in Asia to make such a positive step towards legalizing same-sex marriage, Taiwan could become a leading light in Asia. Lin believes that the time is ripe for Taiwan’s legislators and the nation as a whole to lead by example. “Hopefully, legislators will do what we feel is the right thing and give the gay community the full and equal rights that they, as citizens and more importantly as humans, fully deserve. In recent years Taiwan has become a wonderfully open-minded and welcoming society and now’s the time to clear that final hurdle.”