Four months have passed since Taiwan’s constitutional court handed down the ruling that mandated a two year time frame for President Tsai Ing-Wen’s government to legalize marriage equality. Unfortunately, not much progress has been made since then, as the legislature sets the draft bills aside while focusing on other pieces of legislation proposed by the Democratic Progressive Party.
With the new Premier William Lai taking office barely a month ago, whether the Executive Yuan can propose its version of the marriage equality bill before the end of the year remains uncertain. Pro- marriage equality groups are growing skeptical about DPP’s willingness to legalize marriage equality before the end of the two year time frame. Since a series of LGBTQ pride related events are coming up in October, the supporting side also plans to reimpose pressure on the government through large-scale public gatherings, including the memorial service planned on October 16th, the one year anniversary of professor Jacques Picoux’s suicide over not having rights to look after his sick partner.
Facing a very different set of circumstances and with much less momentum, it is uncertain whether the pro-marriage equality proponents can successfully push the government to codify marriage equality with the same strategies employed thus far.
Slowing Momentum and New Battlegrounds
Before the constitutional court ruling in May, the Marriage Equality Little Bee is one of the many advocacy groups that were actively pushing for marriage equality at the grassroots level, and to some members like Pan Kuan, the ruling in May is viewed as a big bonus to the movement. But with several key issues being prioritized in the legislature since then, and a guarantee for marriage equality from the grand justices, momentum behind the pro marriage equality camp has slowed down tremendously in order to officially codify same sex marriage into law.
“The ruling is the peak moment for the pro marriage equality camp, because it sort of ensures that we will succeed in two years,” said Pan. “This may make some members think that they can slow down a bit.”
However, Pan points out, since the ruling in May the opposition has changed their tactics and begun to concentrate on disrupting the progress in gender equity education in schools at the county level. This new strategy opens up a new battleground for the marriage equality movement, but for groups like the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, this means returning to their longtime focus of cultivating better civic understanding about gender issues.
“The opposition’s new tactics mean they finally decided to seriously engage in gender related topics that we have been working on for a long time,” said Lee Yun-yueh, a longtime volunteer at Tongzhi Hotline. “They began to use all of their resources to disrupt the progress that we have made, and this is their response to what we have always been working on.”
Prominent political commentator Miao Poya of the Social Democratic Party also acknowledges that there is an obvious difference in the level of civic engagement for both the supporting and opposing side since the ruling in May. With the growing level of optimism resulted from the ruling result and the change of tactics for the opposition, Miao believes that it is a natural result for momentum to slow down.
“Before the ruling in May, both sides were fiercely clashing with each other, but since May 24, the movement’s direction has become much clearer,” said Miao.
For the pro-marriage equality camp to effectively respond to the opposition’s new tactics, Miao believes that it is a good thing that different rights groups are shifting their focuses back to the core issues that they have been working on for years. To her, they are simply returning to their designated positions, instead of complicating matters for the pro marriage equality camp.
“The supporting side had to be united behind the issue of marriage equality because that was how they could push the draft bills pass the committee,” said Miao. “However, since May 24th, they are facing new challenges on many different topics, and for each group to return to their specialized area of expertise is a necessary step for the pro-marriage equality camp to deal with these challenges. This is how they can strengthen the marriage equality movement.”
When is The Next Peak Moment?
With the draft bills still stuck in the legislature, Miao thinks that it is crucial for rights groups and supporters of the bills to respond effectively to every political move made by the government and DPP.
“If the rights groups and supporters can respond effectively, then the draft bills may have a chance to move forward in the legislative process,” said Miao. “There needs to be a political opportunity for the legislature to kickstart the multi-party caucus negotiation process over the draft bills, and in order to create such opportunity, the rights groups need to be able to respond flexibly any time.” In other words, rights groups need to create momentum when an unexpected news event happens.
Miao believes that it will be hard for the supporting side to reach another peak through large-scale public demonstrations this time, since the momentum has already slowed down. However, supporters should consider this as a natural phenomenon for social movements.
“It’s hard for a social movement to remain at the same height for a long time,” said Miao. “In fact, the peak that the supporting side created from late last year to early this year should be considered abnormal, and the current status is simply a sign of the movement returning to its normalcy.”
With the constitutional court ruling in favor of marriage equality, Miao suggests that supporters should consider now as the process of gathering momentum for the movement, and if the process extends to 2019, the likelihood for the supporting side to reach another peak through large-scale public demonstrations would become possible.
“We should all view the process of gathering momentum as a normal phenomenon for a social movement,” said Miao. “After all, it’s impossible for society to keep focusing on the same issue.”
Moving forward, Miao thinks that it is important for DPP legislators supporting this bill to keep it on the party’s agenda through either a negotiation between different factions, or simply by bringing it up during their internal meetings.
Other key groups, such as Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), are also continuing their efforts to push for the legalization of marriage equality. TAPCPR has been litigating cases against government agencies for LGBTQ couples since May 24th, and they are currently awaiting the ruling on one of those cases, which will be announced on October 12th. The result could pave way for the immediate authorization of legally binding marriage registration for LGBTQ couples at local household registration offices. According to TAPCPR, all sides are waiting for the Executive Yuan to propose its version of the marriage equality draft bill, and fighting these cases on behalf of LGBTQ couples is a way to ensure that the final bill will include not only rights to marry, but also other rights that married couples are entitled to.
“Through public forums, we will keep advocating for the importance of ensuring that the final bill will include all the rights to which married couples are entitled,” said Chien Chih-Chieh, Secretary General of TAPCPR.
Even though it is almost certain that marriage equality becomes legal in Taiwan eventually, there is a political price that DPP and President Tsai Ing-wen would have to pay if they can’t fulfill the promises made during the 2015 campaign. As a result, all eyes would be on the new Premier and how he handles this issue. He can continue down the path of procrastination that his party has chosen to take, and the consequence is most likely going to be one that the President and DPP didn’t envision 20 months ago.
(Feature photo by William Yang)
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