Taiwan’s Same-Sex Marriage Law Left Some Couples Behind, A Year Later

Taiwan’s Same-Sex Marriage Law Left Some Couples Behind, A Year Later
Photo Credit: Shutterstock 

What you need to know

As Taiwan’s LGBT community celebrates the anniversary of same-sex marriage legalization, adoption rights and transnational marriages remain on the agenda.

Lois has not seen her wife, Cecilia, and three-year-old son since January. Soon after Cecilia took their child to her hometown in China for Lunar New Year, Taiwan began restricting entry to Chinese citizens to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Although the pair have lived together in Taipei for years and were married in the United States in 2017, Cecilia relies on a student visa to live in Taiwan and is now barred from coming home.

“We feel very vulnerable,” said Lois. Despite Taiwan’s same-sex marriage legislation, they are unable to marry and apply for a spousal visa because Cecilia is from China, where same-sex marriage is not legal.

More than 3,700 same-sex couples have wed in Taiwan under the new legislation since May 2019, an Executive Yuan spokesperson told The News Lens. But as transnational marriages are dependent on the related law in the foreign partner’s country of origin, hundreds of same-sex couples like Lois and Cecilia are excluded. 

Covid-19 lockdowns and travel bans have thrown into relief the disruption and heartache from this exclusion, even as Taiwan’s LGBT community celebrates the anniversary of same-sex marriage legalization.

“It is not true equal marriage, some pieces are still missing,” said lawyer Victoria Hsu, co-founder of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR). Hsu is joining other activists in a new struggle — such as transnational marriage rights as well as the right to adopt — after years of dramatic court rulings, referendums, and political wrangling concluded with a bill that fell short of full equality.

“The inequality is very obvious, I feel disappointed and frustrated,” Lois said as she urged the government to act, “This is not just about the rights of same-sex couples, this is about a child and his future.”

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Photo Credit: CNA
Taipei's Pride Parade, October 26, 2019

Rights postponed

Shortly after Taiwan became the first country in Asia to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, Jennifer Lu, executive director of Taiwan Equality Campaign (TEC), received homophobic comments from a taxi driver in Taipei.

“It reminded me that we still have a lot to do, discrimination didn’t just disappear in one night,” said Lu. Many LGBT Taiwanese still face rejection by their families and only 60 percent are open about their identity in the workplace, according to Lu.

They continue to face everyday problems with government bureaucracies failing to catch up with the new rules. Online hospital registration forms, for instance, still cannot recognize same-sex spouses.

A survey conducted by the Department of Gender Equality at the Executive Yuan, revealed 52.5 percent of Taiwanese agree that same-sex couples should enjoy legal marriage, up 15.1 percent since 2018.

The Executive Yuan last year launched a program to “promote the understanding and acceptance of LGBTI and their families,” including materials to promote understanding and respect among civil servants, a spokesperson told The News Lens.

But according to Lu, transnational couples and those wanting to start a family bear the brunt of injustices. “Some rights issues were not solved, they were just postponed,” she said.

Although in 2017 Taiwan’s highest court ruled the Civil Code was unconstitutional in denying same-sex couples marriage rights, anti-LGBT groups in 2018 petitioned for referendums on the issue and, in a massive blow to the LGBT community, about 70 percent of voters opted to restrict marriage under the Civil Code to one man and woman.

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Photo Credit: CNA
Anti- gay marriage activists hold a press conference, January 2020.

The resulting law, which was rushed through parliament ahead of a court deadline, failed to address an article of a Foreign Elements act which states “the formation of a marriage is governed by the national laws of each party” and therefore limits same-sex marriages with foreigners to those who come from one of the 27 countries where it is already legal. 

Amid pressure from anti-LGBT groups on lawmakers, the law only allows the adoption of children who are biologically related to one member of the married couple.

Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy (TLFRA) is now helping same-sex couples who have married under the new law only to discover they are prevented from adopting. With surrogacy also illegal in Taiwan, would-be families are left with few options.

Some couples have put off getting married so that one of them can adopt a child as a single person, according to Chu Chiajong, administrative secretary of the organization. “It somehow feels like the system is asking them to choose between marriage and kids,” she said. 

Unfinished business

Last month, TAPCPR launched a transnational marriage rights campaign including a bid for 10,000 signatures and a viral cover of SEA You Soon by Malaysian singers Fish Leong and Taiwanese singer Eve Ai featuring a music video showing the hardships of a long-distance transnational relationship. It has received more than 2.5 million views on YouTube.

Hsu and her team are also heading to the courts. TAPCPR is helping Macau-Taiwan couple Guzifer Leong and Shin-chi Chen sue Taipei City Government for failing to register their marriage. The couple said their mental health has been affected by the lack of action over the last year. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, Leong cannot go back to Macau to see his family for fear of not being allowed back into Taiwan.

“This situation is probably unconstitutional, and we hope it can be fixed as soon as possible, as there are a lot of people looking to complete their life, and build their home in Taiwan,” said Leong.

Solving the issue will take cooperation between the judiciary, the legislature, and various ministries and would therefore be best solved with high level political action, says Hsu.

She called on President Tsai Ing-wen and Premier Su Tseng-chang to continue to support LGBT rights. “It is a matter of political will, and it needs action.”

Same-sex couples hoping to adopt will likely have to wait even longer, according to Hsu. Lawmakers are unlikely to spend political capital and risk losing support from conservative voters to amend a law that was passed just one year ago.

What’s more, while anti-LGBT groups appear uninterested or divided on the transnational marriage issue, they would likely galvanize support around adoption rights. “They are waiting for a chance to attack,” says Hsu, “if we win in the courts, they can’t change anything, but if legislators initiate, [the groups] might protest and propose another referendum.”

LGBT families cannot afford to wait to be recognized, said Chu at the TLFRA. “LGBT families existed way before same-sex marriage in Taiwan. This is about children’s best interests.” 


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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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