It has been nine months since Taiwan’s marriage equality movement inched within touching distance from granting same-sex couples the rights to marry. But sadly, that was also the last time when the Taiwanese society seems to trend towards progress on the issue of marriage equality.

Despite an attempt to boost the momentum of the movement through Taipei Pride last October, the pro marriage equality camp has not been able to effectively influence public opinion on marriage equality and other issues that are important to the LGBTQ community. On the contrary, the opposition groups continue to stage different forms of challenges that aim at compromising the achievement and legacy of the marriage equality movement.

Even though most of their arguments remain false and inaccurate, the opposition’s public campaigns have proven enough to potentially sway public opinion in certain parts of Taiwan. Instead of continuing to delegitimize marriage equality with purely religious arguments, the opposition, which is led by groups such as Family Alliance and Happiness Alliance, focuses on stigmatizing the LGBTQ community through outdated yet socially salient stereotypes. These claims include marriage equality could potentially endanger traditional family values, students’ premature exposure to sexual knowledge via the updated curriculum for gender equity education, and the risk of enhancing the rate of HIV infection by allowing gay men to donate blood.

While Taiwan’s overall acceptance towards homosexuality may have risen more than 132% since 1995, the open-minded attitude towards issues related to the LGBTQ community remains mostly confined in urban centers. Conservative misperceptions about HIV, sexuality, and even sex, offers the opposition an ideal platform to rally support and confuse the general public’s understanding about marriage equality and the LGBTQ community.

Since February, the Happiness Alliance has announced plans to mobilize two separate referendums aiming to keep the legal definition of marriage as between a man and woman, while attempting to abolish the current curriculum for gender equity education, which they argue is introducing inappropriate sexual knowledge to underage students. After submitting a new petition against marriage equality on February 13, members of the Happiness Alliance held placards bearing slogans including “The gay rights movement is devouring Taiwan,” and “We want sexual liberation education out of our schools” outside the Taipei High Administrative Court, claiming that legalizing marriage equality would have negative impacts on Taiwanese society.

On top of that, the Family Alliance also staged a small protest against the Center for Disease Control’s proposed plan to make it eligible for any man who hasn’t had sexual intercourse with men for 5 years to donate blood. The alliance argued that since gay men are more sexually active than sex workers, if sex workers are not allowed to donate blood, gay men should also not be allowed to donate blood.

“Anyone who has had sex with other men should never touch our clean blood,” said Chang Shou-yi, secretary general of Family Alliance at the protest against lifting the ban for gay men to donate blood last week. “The Ministry of Health and Welfare should let people know that sex between men is unnatural and problematic.”

While statement such as Chang’s appeals to hatred and has no scientific basis whatsoever, the deeply rooted stereotype that lumps homosexuality with being HIV positive allows this kind of rhetoric to be passively accepted by the public. From government officials to opposition groups, false claims that gay men make up most of the new cases of HIV infection continue to stigmatize the LGBTQ community and the lack of statistics about the relations between HIV cases and gay men in Taiwan only makes it harder for the LGBTQ community to defend itself against such vicious and false attack in front of the general public.

Additionally, according to the Referendum Act, even though the referendums proposed by the Happiness Alliance would require at least 281,745 people to petition and 4,695,748 yes votes in order to be enacted, the continuous public exposure offers the opposition a powerful platform to present their arguments and to influence public opinion as well as perceptions about marriage equality.

While it may not be enough to prevent same-sex couples from eventually earning the rights to get married, such strategy could potentially put pressure on legislators and force them to compromise their original goal of directly amending the civil code. This outcome would certainly be considered a failure by the marriage equality movement.

Wake up and re-engage  

In order for the LGBTQ movement to regain momentum amid the new round of challenges staged by the opposition, the pro marriage equality camp needs to re-engage their supporters and the general public through socially visible campaigns. In addition to the nationwide educational workshops at the grassroots level, large-scale public events like the marriage equality concert in December 2016 can help to mobilize supporters and effectively engage the general public through the widespread media attention. It can neutralize the potential damages created by the opposition’s public campaigns while adding new momentum to the movement, as it has become stagnant in the past few months due to the lack of visible actions taken by the pro marriage equality camp.

With no visible plan from the government to kickstart the necessary legislative process for legalizing marriage equality, it is up to the supporting side to keep the movement socially relevant while preventing the opposition from derailing the progress made so far. Since engaging in a war of words may not generate results that are in the interests of the LGBTQ community, the supporting side will surely have to utilize other forms of public engagement to reassert its arguments and turn the tide of the battle for marriage equality once again.

William Yang

William is a freelance writer and photographer based in Taiwan, with a passion for human rights and storytelling. He holds a Master of Journalism degree from Temple University, and has extensive experiences interning at global NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Mercy Corps.