Report. On International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Taiwan became the first Asian nation to legalize gay marriage, a victory over conservatives and less-progressive versions of the law.

A first in Asia: Taiwan legalizes same-sex marriage

The streets were full of celebration, joy, emotion and pride. Saturday was a special day in Taiwan, as thousands of people celebrated on the streets with smiles on their faces. For the first time in Asia, a country has officially recognized same-sex marriages, after a legislative process that started in 2017, but which has benefited from the support of a strong tradition on the island in favor of LGBTQ+ rights.

Ever since the ‘90s, the “rebellious” island—in Beijing’s view—has been renowned as being at the forefront when it comes to securing rights (the first Pride event in Asia took place here). Most fittingly, this historic achievement was made official on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The newly adopted law will allow same-sex couples to register their legal marriages starting on May 24. The draft law was introduced as a result of the landmark 2017 ruling by the Constitutional Court, which ordered the government to adopt legislative measures to secure equal rights for homosexual couples within two years.

The Court’s deadline was May 24, just a few days away. “Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang has called on the deputies from the government party to support her proposal, and this historic step will help Taiwanese society to make great progress,” said government spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka, while pointing out that some deputies supported other, less progressive proposals which substituted the term “marriage” with “union” or “familial relationship.”

Three different legislative proposals had been put forward. However, the one that was the most progressive and wide-ranging was adopted in the end, resolving issues related to taxation, insurance and, most importantly, the custody of children. In addition, the law created a new legal category, sidestepping the problematic passage in the country’s Civil Code which defines “marriage” as exclusively between a man and a woman.

The fact that this took place in Asia was a remarkable feat, if we look, for instance, at nearby Beijing, which until not too long ago still considered homosexuality a mental illness, and considering the recent case of Brunei and its laws calling for the punishment of stoning to death for homosexuality and adultery—even if their application was recently suspended, with a moratorium on the death penalty enacted due to international protests.

No doubt, the main protagonist in this achievement is the current president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, who has worked tirelessly for this result ever since her 2016 presidential campaign, despite some electoral setbacks and many internal political problems afflicting the Democratic Progressive Party, from whose leadership Tsai had to step down after the local elections last year. Despite these difficulties, the party has always supported the law, and has now succeeded in making it a reality. There was a moment last year when the future of the initiative seemed to be hanging by a thread, after the 2018 referendums on the issue of modifying the definition of marriage in the Civil Code gave a strongly negative result.

This has also turned the issue into a prominent one in the presidential campaign for the 2020 elections. On Saturday, Terry Guo, the candidate of the Kuomintang nationalist party (which is now pro-China), founder of the electronics giant Foxconn (a company that has become famous for the suicides of a number of its workers in the mid-2000s), said: “It’s a bit of a regret that this amendment isn’t in line with the referendum.”

However—no doubt taking into account the displays of popular enthusiasm in the streets—he ended his official statement by stressing that, in any case, “Taiwan is a country ruled by law. I respect it.”

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