Taiwan’s cabinet this week will draft a bill to legally recognize same-sex relationships in the country.
But, to the frustration of LGBTI Taiwanese and rights advocates, it is still unclear whether the bill will offer true marriage equality.
Lawmakers are set to debate legislation to comply with a May 2017 court ruling that Taiwan’s Civil Code was unconstitutional for failing to recognize same-sex marriage.
It comes after a devastating referendum loss in November 2018. Taiwan voters opted for a separate law to legalize same-sex unions rather than to change the Civil Code.
Following the results, conservative groups have been lobbying lawmakers to enact a ‘cohabitation’ or ‘partnership’ law to afford same-sex couples similar rights as marriage.
Rights advocates have denounced such laws as failing to give true equality.
’The new law should still be “marriage” according to the requirements of the Constitutional Court’ Joyce Teng of the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan previously told Gay Star News.
What’s more, legal experts and pro-LGBTI lawmakers have insisted that legislation without the word ‘marriage’ would go against the Constitutional Court ruling.
Lawmakers and activists will also be scrutinizing the law to check it offers exactly the same rights as marriage.
Showdown in parliament
Taiwan’s premier last week said cabinet would propose a special law that reflected both the court ruling and the referendum results.
Lawmakers in parliament will then debate and pass the law before the May 24 deadline given by the Constitutional Court.
The court ruled that if parliament fails to legislate, same-sex marriage would automatically become legal.
But, according to local media, both of Taiwan’s major parties do not have a party policy.
Although the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is largely liberal, a number of lawmakers do not back LGBTI rights.
The opposition Kuomintang (KMT), meanwhile, is more conservative but still has a number of pro-LGBTI members.
Both parties are likely to allow legislators to take their own stance on the issue rather than voting as a party bloc.
‘Accept and move on’
Leading LGBTI activist Jay Lin said the important thing was for parliament to pass a bill that protects same-sex couples.
‘Regardless of what it is called, I am inclined to accept and move on.’
He warned that missing the May 24 deadline would cause a lot of confusion. It could also cause a further rift between mainstream society and the LGBTI community.
‘A lot of compromises are needed to move forward’, he said. ‘I feel the best deal that we can get is either same-sex marriage or partnership’.
‘If we can look beyond the semantics, and focus on what the proposed legislation actually provides, then that’s the key thing at the moment’.
How did we get here?
People often describe Taiwan as a beacon of liberalism in Asia. Its capital, Taipei, holds the region’s largest LGBTI pride parade.
Following the May 2017 court ruling, the world expected Taiwan to become the first place in Asia for equal marriage.
But, after inaction from the ruling DPP and a change to referendum rules, Taiwan went to the polls. It voted on equal marriage and LGBTI education on November 24, 2018.
Following a well-funded campaign of misinformation by anti-gay groups, Taiwan voted resoundingly against changing the Civil Code.
The country, therefore, rejected true equality for its LGBTI population. Calls to an LGBTI hotline surged.
What’s more, Thailand is now looking to offer same-sex partnerships. It may, therefore, become the first country in the region to legalize same-sex unions.