The sudden death of a well-known French professor in Taiwan, whose partner recently died from cancer, has led to calls for the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) government to make good on promises to legalize same sex marriage.

On Oct. 16, Jacques Picoux (畢安生) died after falling from the 10th floor of a building in Wenshan District, southern Taipei.

Police found no signs of a struggle and have suggested that Picoux committed suicide, state-run CNA reports. The investigations continues.

Picoux, 68, was born and raised in France. He came to Taiwan in 1979 with his colleague Françoise Zylberberg (施蘭芳) on a two-year exchange and decided to stay on after the program ended. He went on to become a French professor at National Taiwan University (NTU) and was commonly known as “Professor Bi" (畢教授).

Picoux was well-known for his contribution to education and the arts in Taiwan. In addition to teaching, he translated the work of local filmmakers and helped promote Taiwanese artists and productions in Europe. His collage art has been featured in many art exhibitions.

Local gay rights activists have connected Picoux’s death to the recent passing of his long-time partner Zeng Jingchao (曾敬超) and their struggle to legalize their relationship. The two were together for 35 years.

Lee Yen-jong (李晏榕) was the Green Party-Social Democratic Party Alliance legislative candidate in the January elections. In a December 2015 Facebook post, she detailed how the lack of gay marriage laws in Taiwan affected the couple after Zeng fell ill.

The legal status of their relationship meant that after Zeng was hospitalized, Picoux was not allowed to be involved in any of the decisions about Zeng’s treatment, Lee said. While Zeng’s family decided that he should undergo “extreme treatment,” Picoux, who believed Zeng would not want to prolong his suffering, opposed this course of action. The hospital did not acknowledge Picoux had a formal relationship with Zeng.

Zeng also planned to leave the apartment that the couple lived in to Picoux, Lee says. However, Zeng’s family and their lawyers changed his will, and the apartment was subsequently transferred to the family.

Picoux, identified as a “stranger according to the law,” was unable to influence either decision, Lee says.

Zeng died in October.

Picoux said his last wish was to have his ashes scattered with his boyfriend.

Marriage equality issues

After news of Picoux’s death, advocate Chiu Hsin-yi (瞿欣怡) blamed Taiwan’s same-sex marriage laws.

“Why can’t the couple, together for 35 years, live as a legal couple and face sickness and death together?” Chiu wrote today.

Chiu says the government oppresses and discriminates against homosexuals because of a perceived “unpleasant public opinion” toward the gay community.

“They [the government] claim that Taiwan is friendly to homosexuals and fully support them, but they aren’t offering them any rights,” Chiu says. “As long as same-sex marriage is still not legalized, gay rights do not exist in this country and the other same-sex couples will continue suffering from discrimination and pain.”

Cheng Chi-wei (鄭志偉), director of social and volunteer work at the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, has called on President Tsai to respond to the issue.

Cheng told the Chinese-language United Daily News that Tsai said she would support gay rights during her election campaign but neither she, nor officials, have taken action on the issue.

Cheng believes that as the leader, Tsai is responsible for making same-sex marriage legal.

Gay marriage supporters are calling for others to join the Taiwan Pride parade to support same-sex marriage and commemorate the death of “Professor Bi.” The parade, the largest in Asia, will be held on Oct. 29 in Taipei.

Slow action, diluted legislation

Following Tsai’s victory in the Jan. 16 general elections, many human rights observers in Taiwan and abroad hoped Taiwan could become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

In the election campaign, Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) made this subject a component of its platform, and a large contingent of party members were instructed to take part in last year’s LGBT Pride Parade in Taipei.

Since then, the administration appears to have de-prioritized the matter, leading some to conclude that the DPP had simply exploited the issue for electoral gain.

In May, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) sent a missive to legislators informing them that a draft law is to be submitted to the Executive Yuan in September 2017. However, the government is now pursuing a Same-Sex Partnership Act (同性伴侶法), rather than a Marriage Equality Act (婚姻平權法), which many LGBT rights activists argue is a dilution of Tsai's original promise and still puts same-sex unions in a separate category as those involving a man and a woman.

(This article was updated on Oct. 20, 2016, 1:45pm: Para. 11, month of death corrected from December to October. We apologize for the error.)

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole