The Struggle for LGBT Adoption Rights: An Interview With Reese Li

The Struggle for LGBT Adoption Rights: An Interview With Reese Li
Photo Credit: Povided by Reese Li

What you need to know

Reese Li of Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy (TLFRA) explains the contours of the struggle for adoption rights for gay couples.

Taiwan’s 2020 Pride Parade will be held on October 31. In the past few years, Taiwan’s same-sex marriage legislation has been in the media limelight, especially after it took effect on May 24, 2019. LGBT groups didn’t stop pursuing their rights after same-sex marriage legalization. What are their goals now? What is the unfinished work in the legal system? How are LGBT groups dealing with their political differences?

We interviewed Reese Li, of Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy (TLFRA), for her insights on a “post-marriage equality” era in Taiwan.

How did same-sex marriage legalization affect your organization’s initiatives?

Li: The same-sex marriage legislation was primarily about protecting the rights of two people. Our work on expanding the scope of same-sex rights, which touches on the next generation. The 2019 Bill was the first step of a struggle waged by LGBT families for equal rights. But there are many proposals and services that we intend to fight for going forward.

Our service work is divided between government office advocacy, public education, and social services. All of the branches of our work have been changed in very different ways. The government offices all know that the new law is a fait accompli — they can’t act as though they don’t know or don’t care about LGBT rights as they once did. It wasn’t until this past summer that we did a training session in Tainan with a women’s section of a government social services office. This kind of local training done in collaboration with the government was very rare before the passage of the same-sex marriage bill.

Before the bill, there was little recognition that we didn’t know enough and little recognition of the equality provisions in already existing laws. There was widespread adoption of heterosexuality as the norm.

What’s the biggest impact of the same-sex marriage legislation?

Li: The passage of the legislation was a milestone for the gay rights movement in Taiwan, because it provided legal recognition for LGBT families.

As for changes in Taiwanese society, I think it’s made many people realize that gay families live among us all. From the passage of the bill till now, the statistics on same-sex marriages have been widely cited in media reports. I believe that this is a critical change in our city that has been hesitant to discuss gay issues. The data on same-sex marriages has certainly attracted the attention of the executive level of government, and they haven’t relegated us to the office dealing with women’s equality.

The reality is that once gay couples marry, their concerns are connected to the work that many offices do, like those of household registration, social welfare, and children’s affairs.

同志家長挺政院版專法
Photo Credit: CNA
Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy gathers at the Legislative Yuan before the same-sex marriage legalization bill of 2019.

What kind of problems arose out of the same-sex marriage legislation?

Li: Childhood adoptions are performed under several different legal categories. The categories available to same-sex couples under the bill are what is called step-parent adoption. The other category, adoption of non-biologically related children is not open to married gay couples. As of February 2020, only about 30 to 40 gay couples have adopted a child under the step-parent adoption category. Although the process is formally the same for straight and gay couples, in reality it has been much more burdensome for gay couples.

One of the reasons is that straight and gay couples have different family structures. Simply put, there is no true “step-parent” role in the same way there is for straight couples. Another requirement that trips up gay couples is the requirement for a marriage of at least one and a half to two years. No matter how long a gay couple has been together, they would have only been able to legally married after May 2019.

Another disadvantage that gay couples have is the obligation to inform children of their biological parentage. Straight couples have more flexibility to pretend to be biological parents, but this not really feasible for gay couples.

Same-sex couples are concerned that if difficulties arise that draw in social workers or court-appointed representatives, they would be less of an empathetic mediator and more of an enforcer of laws without considering the bigger picture.

As for childhood adoptions under the non-biologically related child category, in simple terms, as a single person, I can apply to adopt a child this way. But if I get married, I lose this opportunity. This is absurd. There are hundreds of children awaiting adoption every year in Taiwan, lingering in the foster care system, but currently, the bill prohibits couples from adopting under this category.

Why do you think it’s still important for the LGBT community to keep participating in Pride and other movements?

Li: The purpose of taking to the streets is to be seen, particularly to let all the different groups that make up the gay community make themselves seen. This includes everyone from those who fell into marriage, and people whose interests have nothing to do with marriage. The TLFRA staged a mini-parade within the parade, the point of which was to show that gay couples can have children too. We want to continue work in this vein.

On the night before the election in January 2020, all across Taiwan you could see posters with slogans like “Same-sex is a rejection of children.” The anti-gay groups all are very well aware that gay people do have children.

The needs of the gay community are much broader than the needs of young gay people, romantic love, or medical care decision-making rights. As children are always in need of society’s care, they should part of how we imagine what gay families should be.

READ NEXT: Challenging the Gender Binary in Taiwan: An Interview With Victoria Hsu

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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