On Friday May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT), Taiwan’s parliament voted to legalise same-sex marriage, making the island state the first place in Asia to achieve marriage equality.
Scenes of euphoria erupted outside the parliament building in Taipei, where thousands of LGBT rights supporters stood in the rain watching a live feed of the vote.
As of next Friday May 24th, same-sex couples will be granted the right to legally marry and will be subject to many of the same rights and obligations as opposite-sex couples who marry under the existing civil code, which governs marriage rights for opposite-sex couples.
Same-sex marriages will sit outside of the civil code and same-sex couples will not have the same adoption rights as opposite-sex couples, with this law only allowing spouses to adopt their partner’s biological children, not to jointly adopt non-biological children.
It’s been a long and difficult battle for LGBT rights activists to achieve marriage equality in Taiwan. In 2017, The Constitutional Court ruled in favour of gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei, 58, deciding that current laws blocking same-sex marriage violate the constitution.
The ruling gave Taiwan’s parliament two years to either change existing laws to allow same-sex marriage or introduce new civil partnerships. If parliament did not abide by the two-year time frame, same-sex couples would have been automatically able to legally marry from next Friday May 24th, the deadline set by the high court.
Taiwan is considered one of the most progressive countries in the deeply conservative Asian region, with a large pride parade and a president who is pro-marriage equality. However, in a series of referendums on November 24 2018, the majority of voters rejected marriage equality and equality education in schools.
The referendum results did not change the requirement for Taiwan to recognise same-sex relationships, but it meant new laws needed to be created without changing the civil code.
This week, Parliament debated three different bills to legalise same-sex unions, with the government’s more progressive bill defeating the other two conservative ones, passing by 66 votes to 27. Both of the conservative bills avoided classifying same-sex unions as marriages.
Taiwan’s pro-marriage equality president, Tsai Ing-wen, tweeted after the vote: “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”
Annie Huang, Acting Director of Amnesty International Taiwan, said in a statement:
"Taiwan has today made history in the fight for equality for LGBTI people. Love has won over hate, and equality has won over discrimination.”
“This is a moment to cherish and celebrate, but it has been a long and arduous campaign for Taiwan to become the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.”
“We hope this landmark vote will generate waves across Asia and offer a much-needed boost in the struggle for equality for LGBTI people in the region.”
“We are filled with pride and joy that from next Friday same-sex couples in Taiwan will be able to marry and finally have their love and relationships recognized as equal under the law. But the Taiwanese government must not stop here; it needs to act to eliminate all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identities and intersex status.”