Taiwan’s legislature held its first legislative session for the same-sex marriage bill yesterday, making it the first East Asian country to do so. However, during the discussion, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice refused to amend the parts of the Civil Code by stating in the written report that a direct amendment to the law will clash with existing marriage system, and the lack of consensus in society on this issue will further polarize it.
The legislature’s judiciary committee mainly focused on amending parts of the Civil Code that determines the right of inheritance and family relationships. During the session, Chen Ming-tang, the Deputy Minister of Justice, emphasized that changing terms like “husband and wife” into “spouses” does not comply with Taiwan’s traditional ethical value regarding familial relationship, and against the principle to determine kinship between family members. In the long run, this will affect people’s rights of inheritance. Chen believes that amending parts of the Civil Code arbitrarily could polarize Taiwanese society since there is no existing consensus regarding same-sex marriage. The decision to not amend the law should not be interpreted as discriminating or neglecting same-sex couples’ basic rights, Chen said.
Chen also indicated that the current legal system already grants same-sex couples the rights to adopt and to make major medical decisions on behalf of their partners.
While debates inside the legislature heated up, groups on both sides of the issue also went toe to toe outside the legislature. Taiwan Family Union, the main opposition group against the same-sex marriage bill, gathered outside the legislature on Monday morning, chanting slogans like “same-sex marriage is not human rights” and holding banners calling granting same-sex couples the right to adopt a mistake. Chang Shou-yi, the representative from Taiwan Family Union, said that marriage is a system that allows heterosexual couples to reproduce the next generation, and he claims that no system is completely fair.
LGBT advocacy groups held their own press conference yesterday, calling on legislators to pass the bill and allow all couples to enjoy the right to marry regardless of their sexuality. Hsu Shiu-wen, the Executive Director of Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights, emphasized that equality should belong to all people, and that even if prejudice and discrimination remains in the society, minorities should still rely on the law to protect their basic rights.
The legislative session ended when Chen proposed to set up short-term and mid-term goals for legal amendments on the basis of guaranteeing same-sex couples’ basic rights. As for whether to set up a specific bill for same-sex marriage, Chen suggested that further research is needed.
(Feature photo of a recent LGBT rally in Taipei, by William Yang)