On October 24, 2016, ten legislators of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stated that they would propose amendments to the Civil Code to legalize same-sex marriage in Taiwan. Specifically, this would change Article 972 of the Civil Code from marriage between a “man and woman” to “two sides.” The amendment would also allow for parental rights such as adoption.

Led by Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) of the DPP, the six legislators who introduced this bill include five DPP legislators and one KMT legislator: Jason Hsu (許毓仁). Moreover, the draft was co-signed by a total of 38 legislators, including three NPP members. According to Pride Watch, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights in Taiwan, legislators who support the bill include 59 out of the 113 seats in the Legislative Yuan (LY), demonstrating support of marriage equality at 52.2%. The Social Democratic Party have also come out in support of the bill; Secretary-General Wu Wei-ting (伍維婷) believes that the adoption of the changes will lead to more diverse voices heard in society and give the LGBT community reason to live their lives.

The Alliance of Religious Groups for the Love of Families Taiwan (台灣宗教團體愛護家庭大聯盟), a long time opponent of LGBT rights, voiced opposition to the bill. The alliance was established in 2013 and is led by evangelical Christian groups.

Taiwan’s history of marriage equality legislation has generally seen support by the DPP and opposition from the KMT, but the story is not that simple. During DPP’s former president Chen Shui-bian’s administration from 2000 to 2008, a Human Rights Advisory Panel worked towards revising legal language for marriage equality, but his own Ministry of Justice could not agree to more than vague references to possible civil union or partnership for same-sex couples.

In 2013 and 2014 similar bills to amend the Civil Code were introduced to the parliament by DPP legislators, but amidst media attention and support from pro-LGBT groups, the bills did not advance through the legislative process, with opposition from KMT lawmakers.

Since 2015, 10 out of 23 counties and special municipalities in Taiwan have adopted civil unions for same-sex couples; however, registration under these local authorities does not permit the same legal benefits held by heterosexual couples with respect to spousal rights for medical treatment and care.

This time around, the amendments in Taiwan’s Civil Code seems to have a better chance than ever to become law. If so, Taiwan would grant full legal recognition and institutional benefits for same-sex couples, which would make it the first country in East Asia to do so. President Tsai Ing-wen openly supports marriage equality; over half of the newly nominated grand justices responded in favor of marriage equality in a recent survey; and, for the first time, the DPP controls the majority in parliament. Moreover, even within the KMT, young first term legislators like Jason Hsu and Chiang Wan-an are joining in as proponents.

Taiwan’s society is still permeated by traditional Confucian, patriarchical values. However, it has also seen a great deal of foreign influence, conflict and change. With Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration as Taiwan’s first female president of Taiwan and Audrey Tang’s appointment as Taiwan’s first transgender minister, the timing for women’s rights, gender rights and sexual orientation seems ripe for Taiwan to recognize marriage equality, all ideals first imported from the West but recognized as universal values. The detractors, also interestingly enough, are led by evangelical Christians, another social element originally from abroad.    

Under this mashup of tradition and change in Taiwan’s society, one sees the tension: Taiwan has Asia’s largest annual gay pride parade, just this past weekend; yet it is still very difficult for people to be open about their sexual orientation. One would hope legally mandated marriage equality will change the underlying social norm in Taiwan, and give more strength to LGBT persons to come out from the dark. While the McDonald’s commercial from March this year has led to more debate on the matter, the new law will hopefully empower individuals to challenge existing societal norms.

(Feature photo of 2016 Pride Parade in Taipei, by William Yang)

 

Sebra Yen

Sebra Yen is an M.A. Asian Studies graduate student at the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. He recently spent time in Taiwan on a fellowship for language study, work, and research on U.S.-Taiwan relations. Previously, he represented Taiwan internationally as a competitive figure skater.