Now that roughly 250,000 people in Taiwan turned out in support of marriage equality on Saturday, what’s next? The pending bills that would legalize same-sex marriage are scheduled to be discussed again in the Legislative Yuan’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee on December 26. Legislator Yu mei-nu, committee co-convener and sponsor of one of the bills vowed – and repeated the pledge at the rally – that the bills will come out of committee so they can be deliberated on by the entire Legislative Yuan at the beginning of the next term starting in February. This plenary session is what is commonly known as the second reading of the legislative process.
Politicians on both sides have spoken out in response to the rally. Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun, a former legislator who sponsored the 2013 marriage equality bill, posted on Facebook advocating for the amendment of the Civil Code to realize marriage equality. Though it is unclear whether she is speaking for herself, in her capacity as the culture minister, or for the entire executive department, she is the first cabinet member under premier Lin Chuan to publicly support amending the Civil Code to legalize same-sex marriage.
President Tsai Ing-wen, by contrast, reiterated her lukewarm support through the presidential spokesperson who proclaimed that Tsai believes “gays also have a right to marriage.” At this point, Tsai sounds like a broken record, repeating time and time again that she supports marriage equality or LGBTQ rights without offering any semblance of a coherent plan on how she will effect change in the law and help people attain those rights.
Maybe she has no coherent plan. Tsai’s executive branch has officially tapped out of the match. Neither the Executive Yuan, which also previously expressed tepid support for marriage equality, nor the Ministry of Justice – which unilaterally decided to forge ahead with a civil partnership bill then backed off and opened itself to other options in response to backlash – will submit a bill of any kind to be considered by the Legislative Yuan. The official reason is that the issue is too contentious. The labor law amendments were quite contentious too though, were they not (yes, the Executive Yuan submitted its own bill to amend the Labor Standards Act)?
DPP legislator Chao Tien-lin also cites the contentiousness of the concept of equal rights for all to justify his preference for supporting a civil partnership bill instead of backing a marriage equality bill that amends the Civil Code. His rationale is that because same-sex marriage will tear the fabric of society apart, not giving gay people full equality is a good compromise. The news report suggests he is against marriage equality because people will continue to be prejudiced against gay people even if the Civil Code is amended to allow them to marry. In other words, his position is that invidious discrimination against gay people should not be struck from the law because society is going to discriminate against them anyway.
Chao made sure to name drop DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming, possibly in an attempt to bolster his own standing, seemingly unaware of – or simply indifferent to – the risk of alienating young voters and fuelling the ongoing effort to recall Ker for his blindsiding of Yu and her allies with his Facebook post last month announcing that the DPP legislative caucus may choose to support a civil partnership bill instead.
The December 26 committee meeting will be closely watched. Supporters and detractors both promise to fill the streets surrounding the Legislative Yuan, but the real action will occur inside. The Judiciary and Organic Statutes and Laws Committee consists of 13 legislators – 8 DPP, 4 KMT, and 1 PFP. The Organic Laws of the Committees of the Legislative Yuan mandates that at least a third of the members – in this case five – need to be present for quorum. There have been rumors that opponents, especially KMT legislators, would boycott the meeting, but that would be a losing strategy given the assured presence of the staunch DPP supporters on the committee and KMT legislator Jason Hsu who proposed one of the bills. Further, any decision the committee makes only requires the support of a simple majority of the members present, so it would probably be in the best interest of the opponents to show up and vote against referring the bill for the second reading. In any case, if the KMT legislators were not there, who will halt the proceedings by storming the podium? Surely Ker Chien-ming will need some help.
(Feature photo of Saturday’s marriage equality rally in Taipei, by Jenna Lynn Cody)