Gay Marriage Legalization
Factions Clash as Marriage Equality Law Tabled
Last week, as legislators reviewed the Marriage Equality Law, thousands of protesters gathered outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.
Factions Clash as Marriage Equality Law TabledBy Jenny Cheng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 611 )
As the Legislative Yuan’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee reviewed the Marriage Equality Act bill last week, Kuomintang (KMT) legislators commandeered the chairman’s podium and filibustered their way into two agreements with the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) caucus: that both parties will hold separate hearings on the matter, and that all revisions to the bill would be reviewed in committee before the conclusion of the current legislative session, with no further procedural interference permitted.
The emphatic shouts of groups opposing marriage equality outside the legislative chambers where the bill was being reviewed, along with the crushing disappointment and anger of LGBT groups upon learning of the outcome, set the stage for a confrontation of opposing values.
“Uphold traditional family values! Oppose legislative railroading!” Early on the morning of November 17, groups opposing gay marriage including Alliance of Taiwan Religious Groups for the Protection of Family (護家盟) and the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance (下一代幸福聯盟) rallied thousands of people together along Jinan Road outside the Legislative Yuan. Dressed in white T-shirts, they raised signs in protest reading “Marriage and Family, Let the People Decide.” A few young students and some families with children could be seen among their ranks.
The protestors were mobilized mainly by Christian groups due to their belief that passage of the act would erode traditional family values. Three versions of the bill were submitted for review. In a departure from the established application of the Civic Code exclusively to heterosexual marriages, the Partial Revision to Articles of the Civic Code Pertaining to Family Relations, sponsored by DPP legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) and endorsed by 48 legislators, stresses equal application of the code across same-sex and heterosexual marriages, as well as the rights of and responsibilities to the children involved.
In addition, the proposed bill dictates that parties entering into an adoption may not discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Following skirmishes both inside and outside the legislative chambers, the bill did not reach a qualitative reading.
Despite the appearance of going back to the drawing board, at no time in Taiwanese history has the legalization of marriage equality been so close at hand. Chen Yi-chien (陳宜倩), associate professor at the Shih Hsin University Graduate Institute for Gender Studies, says that, even if the bill did not come up for review, it nonetheless signifies that Taiwanese society has begun to seriously consider the possibility of same-sex marriage, attracting further attention and participation.
Tu Tsu-cheng (杜思誠), director of the Taiwan TongZhi Hotline Association’s Policy Promotion Department, echoed the sentiment, saying this is an opportunity for Taiwanese society to learn how to respect others’ differences.
In the fight for marriage rights, gay Taiwanese petitioned for a constitutional interpretation as far back as 1958. However, the government refused to support top-down efforts until 2003, when the Ministry of Justice amended the Basic Human Rights Law to assert that “homosexuals have the right to form a family and raise children,” a provision that never made it to the Executive Yuan. In 2006, a marriage equality draft bill proposed by Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim was blocked in the Legislative Yuan Procedure Committee.
Yu Mei-nu reintroduced the legislation in 2012, and the following year, Cheng Li-chun (DPP) added a provision on gay adoption. However, neither of these versions made it past committee discussion procedures.
In comparison to past Legislative efforts, the issue is attracting both more attention and greater controversy this time. Tseng Hsien-ying (曾獻瑩), spokesperson for the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance, acknowledges that the rights of gay people must be safeguarded. However, as numerous structures are established upon the institution of heterosexual marriage, Tseng insists that changes should not be made directly to the Civic Code, the scope and influence of which is extremely broad. Instead, single laws should be amended. “If there are issues with your rights and privileges, then let’s talk about it and possibly change the laws,” says Tseng, who believes that such an approach would require less extensive legal revisions.
Tseng Hsien-ying also claims that the overarching purpose of the marriage structure “is to protect the next generation,” and that legalization of gay marriage, if passed, “would impact the heterosexual marriage order and color the next generation’s views on marriage and family.” Consequently, Tseng claims, the term or concept of “heterosexual” will vanish, and “traditional family values will be damaged.” Tseng says that the family plays an important basic function in society, claiming that mothers and fathers play different roles, and “children are better off growing up under a heterosexual marriage.”
Who Says Our Love Isn’t Real?
“We hope Taiwanese society not only notices the existence of the LGBT community, but what we want at this point is to own our own lives,” says Chih-liu Peng (彭治鏐), secretary general of the Taiwan TongZhi Hotline Association. By lives, this refers to enjoying the same rights as other citizens in regard to such everyday, practical concerns as healthcare, marriage, property and wealth inheritance, and adoption.
Cindy Su, CEO of the Lobby Alliance for LGBT Human Rights, married her partner in Canada in 2012. This year they had twins. “We were running out of time,” says Su. Although she has both parental and guardianship rights, there are no legal safeguards over her partner’s relationship with their children.
“How long must these families wait? Who says our love isn’t love? Who says our children aren’t children?” So asked a chorus of voices mixed with tears among the lesbian attendees at a gender rights group press conference.
Mixing rage and tears, many differing value systems clashed on the same day, reaching a cacaphonous crescendo on the Internet. “If society remains so polarized, even if the law passed today it would only be a miniscule beginning. The journey of mutual understanding between different gender identity groups is just beginning, with many more rights left to fight for,” said Chen Yi-chien.
The outcome of negotiations agreed upon amidst the conflict, which set the stage for something further, will depend on the result of the Legislative Yuan’s review of the bill during this legislative term. Whether or not Taiwan becomes the first country in Asia to enshrine marriage equality in its laws, it seems that more discussion will have to come first.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman