Taiwan will pass a special law to recognize same-sex marriages within three months, a government spokesperson said on Saturday (24 November).
It comes after a devastating defeat for the LGBTI community in national referendums.
Taiwan on Saturday voted against changing the country’s Civil Code to recognize same-sex marriage.
It will now instead enact a separate law for same-sex couples. The LGBTI community has denounced the results as a failure to give genuine equality.
More than six million people supported a referendum asking whether to give same-sex couples who live together legal protections, without changing the Civil Code.
‘The Executive Yuan will, in accordance with Article 30 of the referendum law, propose to guarantee same-sex marriage within 3 months’ said, Executive Yuan spokesperson, Kolas Yotaka.
‘The draft of the special law will be sent to the Legislative Yuan for consideration’.
Taiwan may still become the first country in the region to recognize same-sex marriage.
But, Thailand’s military junta has also been pushing forward a same-sex unions bill ahead of elections slated for February.
Leaders of the pro-LGBTI rights campaign on Saturday said they were ‘deeply saddened and disappointed by the referendum results’.
Worryingly, Taiwan residents also voted against a gender equality education. Launched in 2014, the law promotes awareness of LGBTI issues in the national curriculum.
Activists blamed unconstitutional referendum petitions, well-funded conservative groups spreading misinformation about the community and bad practices on the voting day.
‘The farce-like referendum started with unconstitutional proposals and closed with illegal means’ a Saturday statement said.
Conservative groups spent more than US$3 million on ‘baseless claims of enhanced stigmatization, discrimination, fear’, they said.
They accused anti-LGBTI groups of misconduct on voting day. ‘In some places, supporters of anti-LGBTQ+ alliance blatantly disseminated their propaganda materials’ their statement read.
‘Some voting stations only gave voters ballots of certain referendum questions’ their statement said.
The Gender Equity Education Coalition said voting against the education law was ‘a tremendous setback for the effort Taiwan has put in regarding gender equity education in the past decade’.
‘The various unconstitutional acts of the anti-LGBTQ alliance has severely torn and injured the Taiwan society’ the coalition said.
It urged the education ministry to continue ‘to promote substantive gender equality, eliminate gender discrimination’ as per the act.
Longtime LGBTI rights campaigner in Taiwan Chi Jia Wei provided some words of encouragement.
‘Today, however, more than two million voters, including many heterosexuals, really understand and respect LGBTQ+ communities’ said Chi Jia Wei.
How did we get here?
Taiwan made headlines last year when its highest court ruled that failing to recognize same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
It paved the way for Taiwan to be the first country in Asia for equal marriage.
Advocates hoped, in line with the court’s suggestion, lawmakers would change the Civil Code’s definition of marriage.
The court’s statement, however, led space to enact separate legislation to recognize same-sex marriages.
But Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, despite campaigning on a promise of marriage equality in the run-up to 2016 elections, and other lawmakers failed to enact legislation.
A lawmaker Gay Star News spoke to put this down to the country’s small but powerful Christian population. She also said older Taiwanese held conservative traditional family values and were susceptible to misinformation.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s government made it easier to propose referendums. Citizens need only to gather signatures from 1.5% of the electorate —280,000 in this case – to secure a referendum.