Taipei, Taiwan — A year ago, participants in Taipei’s annual gay pride parade — the biggest event of its kind in East Asia — had a lot to celebrate.
Taiwan’s constitutional court had given the government until May 2019 to legalize same-sex marriage, ruling that the civil code’s definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. If the government didn’t meet the deadline, the court said, same-sex marriage would simply become legal automatically.
That deadline is now barely half a year away. But the democratic island will hold referendums on same-sex marriage on Nov. 24, and many of the estimated 137,000 marchers at the pride parade on Saturday expressed both frustration at the lack of progress and cautious optimism for their cause.
Many activists in Taiwan are bitterly disappointed with President Tsai Ing-wen, who has done little since last year’s court ruling to push lawmakers to pass marriage equality legislation. And conservative groups have gotten two referendums opposing same-sex marriage onto the ballot for local elections on Nov. 24, which many activists fear could undo what, for some, had seemed like a clear victory. Two referendum items in support of same-sex marriage are also on the ballot.
Chi Chia-wei, a pioneering Taiwanese gay rights campaigner whose lawsuit helped lead to the constitutional court ruling, said in an interview before the parade that he was “extremely disappointed” in the government’s lack of movement on same-sex marriage.
“If you make a promise as a politician, you have to follow through on it,” Mr. Chi said. “If you don’t, you’re just playing politics; you’re a liar.”
Ms. Tsai, who as a presidential candidate in 2015 courted the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender vote and called for legalizing same-sex marriage, welcomed the court’s ruling in May 2017, saying on Twitter, “The law must protect the people’s freedom of marriage and right to equality.”
But her support since then has seemed more reserved. In a June interview with Agence France-Presse, rather than speaking of rights, she said that Taiwan was divided on the issue, while promising that the government would “bridge the differences” and “propose a comprehensive bill.”
Given the well-organized and well-funded opposition, many believe that Ms. Tsai and her governing Democratic Progressive Party have considered it too risky to put a bill forward before the local elections, which will be seen as a referendum on her first two years in office. (She is expected to seek re-election in 2020.)
Besides local races for mayors, city councilors and other posts, the ballot will include four referendum questions about same-sex marriage: two brought forward by conservative groups, and two by marriage-equality proponents. A referendum item seeking to repeal more than a decade of gender equity education in Taiwan’s schools is also on the ballot.
An overwhelming response from voters on the same-sex marriage questions could determine whether the government pursues full marriage equality or a limited civil partnership, but how lawmakers would respond to mixed support with no clear consensus is less clear.
“If both sides pass, the government will struggle to deal with it,” said Jennifer Lu, chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan.
She said she had seen “lots of worry and anxiety” over the referendum questions. “We’re trying our best to be positive,” she added.
Yu Chia-lin and Chen Chia-jui came to Taipei for the parade from Taiwan’s second-largest city, Taichung. The couple, who have been together for five years, said that they planned to marry once they have the chance.
Mr. Yu said that regardless of the results on the referendum questions, he still had hope that Ms. Tsai would follow through on her previous pledge of support for full marriage equality.
“Two years ago, when she was campaigning, she said she hoped to see this bill pass,” he said. “But she’s only taken it halfway — I believe that in the coming two years she can push it through.”
Another marcher, Xan Wang, also tempered her optimism.
“I feel the politicians have not been very effective at getting this done,” she said. “But I have maintained hope.”
Some people marching on Saturday saw the coming referendums as less of an obstacle to their goals and more of a showcase for one of Asia’s freest democracies. Marching with friends with rainbow flags painted on their faces, Chen Hung-ting welcomed the views of those opposed to same-sex marriage, including the conservative group Alliance for the Next Generation’s Happiness, which sponsored one of the referendum items.
“Opposing voices show that here in Taiwan, we’re a free and democratic country,” Mr. Chen said. “I respect their views, and at the same time, am happy that Taiwan isn’t somewhere where you can have only one viewpoint.”
Mr. Chen added that he thought Taiwan’s push for same-sex marriage would help move L.G.B.T. rights forward elsewhere in Asia. “I hope that if next year we’re able to register same-sex marriages, that this will have some influence,” he said.
Kinson Chong had traveled to Taipei from Hong Kong to join Saturday’s parade. He called same-sex marriage a human rights issue, adding that if Taiwan were to legalize it, there would be a positive impact in the region.
Could developments in Taiwan improve the chances for marriage equality in Hong Kong?
“I don’t know,” he said, “But it’s a start, isn’t it?”
by Chris Horton
Source – The New York Times