Taiwan set to be first Asian state to allow same-sex marriage

Court decision in sharp contrast to developments in Indonesia and South Korea


Taiwan’s top court has made a landmark ruling in favour of same-sex marriage, paving the way for the self-ruled island to become the first jurisdiction in Asia to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Supporters of the bid to change the law in Taiwan cheered and cried after the Council of Grand Justices, Taiwan’s most senior judicial body, announced its decision, the Taipei Times reported.

Homosexuality remains a powerful taboo in many societies in Asia, especially in areas with significant Chinese influence.

Confucianism, which places major store on filial piety, plays a defining role and societies are deeply socially conservative, although Taiwan has long been liberal on LGBT issues.

Taipei hosts the biggest annual gay pride event in the region, has a vibrant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and is home to a popular temple whose worshippers are predominately homosexual.

Taiwan’s liberalism is in sharp contrast to many of its neighbours. This week saw two men publicly caned in Indonesia for gay sex and a South Korean soldier sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for a year, for having sex with a fellow male soldier.

The 14-member court in Taipei ruled that current marriage laws were “in violation of both the people’s freedom of marriage . . . and the people’s right to equality”. The court has given two years for the parliament, known as the Legislative Yuan, to enact legal amendments to allow same-sex marriage.

“Disallowing two persons of the same sex to marry . . . is a different treatment, also obviously having no rational basis. Such different treatment is incompatible with the spirit and meaning of the right to equality as protected by article 7 of the constitution,” the ruling said.

“Sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic that is resistant to change,” it said.

Election campaign

Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, made legalising same-sex marriage part of her election campaign in 2016. In December, parliamentarians passed the first draft of a Bill to amend the civil code in order to legalise gay marriage.

The ruling has a broader geo-political significance too. Mainland China considers Taiwan part of its territory, a kind of renegade province which it is prepared to take back by force if needs be. Beijing deeply disapproves of talk of such issues as constitutional matters and even refers to Taiwan’s president in inverted commas.

Nevertheless, in the Bill before parliament in Taiwan, legislator Yu Mei-nu of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party wants to replace the words “male and female parties” in Taiwan’s civil code’s marriage chapter with “two parties”.

Conservative groups, especially religious organisations, have staged large demonstrations against the legalisation of same-sex marriage and have said they will lobby parliament not to enact any changes without a referendum on the matter.

Legislators now face the decision whether to legalise same-sex marriage or introduce new separate civil partnership legislation.

“This is a huge step forward for LGBT rights in Taiwan and will resonate across Asia,” said Lisa Tassi, East Asia campaigns director at Amnesty International. “Lawmakers must act swiftly to ensure Taiwan becomes the first in Asia to make genuine marriage equality a reality.”