What you need to know
On the ground at the Legislative Yuan as Taiwan becomes the first country in Asia to approve same-sex marriage.
With Taiwan set to vote on same-sex marriage Friday the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan (MECT) organized a rally around the Legislative Yuan complete with giant video screens to livestream the action from the Chamber – they had booked all available streets around the building to hold their projected crowd of 10-20 thousand. The News Lens International was on the ground to experience history being made as Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
Walking up Jinan road to the Legislative Yuan at around 8 a.m. I spotted a small group of around 10 anti-marriage protestors looking rather deflated. They’d turned up early with their banner, hoping to disrupt the pro-equality rally and now the police were dutifully keeping them from entering into the area. And that was the last anti-marriage equality activist I saw for the rest of the day. From eyewitness reports it seems that few who had responded to the mobilization call had given up and dissipated by 9 a.m.. The marriage equality crowd on the other hand almost quadrupled expected attendance with 40,000 supporters gathering over the course of the day – a working day no less.
As I made my way through round the back of the Legislative Yuan I ran into Rev. Elias Tseng (曾恕敏), of the Lighthouse Presbyterian church (同光同志長老教會), an LGBT+ church and Taiwan’s first openly gay pastor who said “I came here to support the same-sex equal marriage …I hope today we will pass the law.” It felt like a nice start to the day and the rally hadn’t even kicked off.
Over by the main stage for the rally (which was set up on Qingdao Road directly under the bridge that crosses between buildings in the Legislative Yuan) the crowds were already starting form. The rally kicked off at 8:30 a.m. with a series of photo ops and despite the damp weather spirits seemed cautiously high. (The Legislative session was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., however, as is customary the session opens with an open floor for other business which was not being streamed). Outside the mood at the rally was building up as videos were played and the numbers kept arriving. By 9 or so new arrivals were directed to the other side of the Legislative Yuan as the Qingdao road site and area in front of the Legislative Yuan was already at capacity. Supporters had taken advantage of coaches laid on by MECT from most of the major cities around Taiwan and it became clear that the expected numbers would be exceeded.
As the crowd waited for the Legislative session to start Cheng Chi-wei (鄭智偉), of Hotline spoke passionately about the importance of the Gender Equity Education Act (性別平等教育法) and bullying in schools.
At 10 a.m. DPP Secretary-General Luo Wen-jia (羅文嘉) with his wife Liu Chao-yi (劉昭儀), who runs a book store focused on civil rights, took to the stage and Luo urged the DPP members who felt under pressure from vocal anti-equality groups or their local electorate to strand firm and vote for the government backed bill. His wife added a few words of support too and the pair were well received by the crowd.
Meanwhile in the Legislative Yuan, a first reading of an unrelated bill was swiftly being read. Of course, outside the Legislative Yuan the crowd weren’t sure of the reason for the delay. A sense of nervousness began to grow. And the organizers quickly rallied spirits by leading a “Marriage not Civil-union” chant.
And then at 10:42 a.m. the livestream started. Legislators may present their opinions prior to a bill being read for up to three minutes each. Democratic Progressive Party Legislator and ardent defender and champion of marriage equality Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) was up first and the crowd cheered in anticipation. Yu delivered a clear and blistering statement of the implications of the referendums and the Constitutional Court ruling - leaving no doubt that the Executive Yuan Bill met the demands of both.
Several other legislators, roughly alternating between pro and anti, stated their cases and were met with the expected responses – groans for anti-equality legislators which were quickly turned to humour, or warm cheers for supporters. It felt a little like being at a pantomime in the UK – an effect which was not helped by the realization that many of the anti-equality legislators had the raspy, indignant high voices of a pantomime villain.
The fourth speaker from the DPP called for a more democratic Taiwan from this day forward and the crowd cheered along. An inordinate amount of KMT legislators seemed to be making their cases and after a while the hosts at the rally would just dim the sound and keep up the crowd’s spirits rather than subject the crowd to their views.
Then at 11:30 KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆), who proposed the KMT-bill took the podium and immediately there was a prolonged energetic round of Xia Tai! (Step down!). At 11:36 NPP’s Freddy Lim (林昶佐) came up and the crowd went wild. Throughout this around 2000 people were viewing the livestream on the equal-love website alone and the numbers fluctuated between 2000 and 2300 with notable drops when particularly vicious opponents took the podium.
Then at 11:49 the first vote of the day was taken on article one (the name of the bill) and the voting scoreboard was projected onto the screen. The legislators have a full-minute to cast their votes in real time and the crown excitedly started a countdown 10 seconds from the end breaking out into cheers as the article passed.
The second article, which included the term civil-union – a compromise worked out on the eve of the vote – took a lot longer to hash out and was only voted on at 12:37 – a full 50 minutes later and the rain was pelting down by this stage but the crowd held firm. This article was imperative to the pro-equality cause and the tension on the ground as the voting minute dragged on was palpable. The countdown commenced and excited cheers and a few tears broke out at the conclusion. The first major hurdle had been passed.
Article 3 which set the age for marriage at 18 for both sexes (unequal with the civil code which allows females to marry at 16 and males at 18) was dealt with quickly. Ke quickly stated that the session would not break for lunch and moved the session to article four.
Article four includes the words marriage registration, and there were fears that this might not get through. Indeed, this took a while, with a great interlude at 1 p.m. where Freddy Lim broke into Taiwanese to say that the KMT legislators love to play the victim, but as usual they are the victimizers. The crowd responded with resounding cheers. Lim followed this up with a promise to attend all the weddings of Lai Shyh-bao’s gay relatives on his behalf once the law was passed which was greeted with peals of delighted laughter.
The tension as the voting on Article 4 began was pointed. If this article passed, then the law would include the word marriage. And not even with the prefix same-sex. As the crowd counted down I was fortunate enough to be standing right by Chi Jia-wei (祁家威), who has been fighting for marriage equality through the courts for 30 years. I watched his face as he stood with his eyes fixed on the scoreboard on the screen and the felt lucky to witness his moment of realization as the article passed. Moments later as the crowd erupted, he turned and gave me a huge smile and thumbs-up.
In an interview right after he said “I’m very, very, very happy. Taiwan has always been a been a very democratic country ever since the lifting of martial law. Today we saw clashes between parties and these clashes themselves are a demonstration of democracy in Taiwan and we also see the change in political power. This is a demonstration of our democratic ideals.”
Asked if he hoped that Taiwan’s passing of the law might inspire change across the rest of Asia as the first Asian country to pass a same-sex marriage law he responded positively and observed:
“We not only have many Asian firsts; we also have one world-first because it was a world-first when I raised this issue with the government 30 years ago. The constitutional court ruling two years ago was also an Asia-first.”
He also said he felt that the large turnout at the rally had helped give the legislators the courage to pass these articles and hoped that the remaining articles would pass smoothly.
The rain continued to pour down as the other less controversial articles were dealt with and organizers suggested this was a good time for people to grab food before articles dealing with the rights of same-sex spouses to adopt the biological children of their spouse were tabled.
Over an hour later, the sun had come out and a further 16 articles had passed without hitch. The crowd waited anxiously for the vote on article 21 as Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) opened the comments on the article urging legislators to protect the rights of the 200 registered same-sex couples with children. Another DPP legislator spoke of the importance of allowing citizens make their family lives complete. At 2:37 p.m. the vote began and once again the hopes of the gathered crowds to enjoy at least some form of protection, if not full equality with heterosexual married couples, were on the line. The 10 second countdown began, and when the article passed and another step towards family equality had been taken, the crowd celebrated.
By the time Article 24 was being voted on the crowd-chants had turned to those of LifaYuan JiaYou! (Legislature add oil!) and the mood was thoroughly optimistic. Freddie Lim took to the podium to introduce the final article - 27 - at 3:08 p.m.. This article was an addition to the original Executive Yuan approved bill at the behest of the NPP which had been added Tuesday during negotiations. It covered the rights of foreign spouses from countries that do not recognize same-sex marriage to be allowed to marry in Taiwan – of course this includes many neighbouring countries and there are many such relationships in Taiwan. This anomaly is due to separate law on which country’s law is recognized in civil matters involving two countries.
However, the article failed to pass and suddenly the bubble of optimism surrounding the crowd burst. A few people discretely shed tears and there was a strong sense emanating from the crowd that at this final hurdle the bill had failed to extend the same rights to foreign members of Taiwan’s society and their Taiwanese partners.
Attendee King commented “I’m a bit disappointed. My partner is from Macau, so we can’t get married at this moment. However, I think that there is still hope. I think the DPP will figure out something to change the other law that governs this.”
The hosts quickly explained the ramifications of the article failing to the crowd, caught their breath then led the crowd with a chant of ‘No one is an outsider! We are all people of Taiwan!’
At 3:28 p.m. the bill was voted on in its entirety and Taiwan became the first country in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage and the crowd responded with ebullition, hugs, tears of joy. Onstage the organisers were also overwhelmed with many breaking into tears as their efforts of over three years had finally been rewarded.
The organisers moved down to the front of the crowd for media interviews to the hordes of TV and press journalists and suddenly a huge roar went through the crowd. Yu Mei-nu had appeared on the bridge above the screen with a rainbow ribbon. A chant of “Xie Xie Yu Mei-Nu!” rang out followed by more cheers.
Amongst the crowd Erica, 19, commented “I’m super excited that we are the first country in Asia to have the dream of same-sex marriage come true. Our life is going to get better and better from now”
A young man, Steven, commented “I’m so excited and happy at this moment we have written history in Taiwan and Asia. I’m so proud! I can now be proud that I can get married in Taiwan. I can tell my parents this, and I think that they are going to accept it now it is legal, even though they didn’t agree with it. But after today I think that they will step by step accept and agree with it. Today has changed my life.”
Editor: Lea Yang (@TheNewsLens)
If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more like it in your news feed, please be sure to like our Facebook page below.