President Tsai: Proceed With Marriage Equality. Now

Photo: J. Michael Cole
Why you need to know

The electoral costs to the government of proceeding with legalizing same-sex unions in Taiwan are so low it makes no sense to delay the matter any further. And from a moral standpoint, it's the right thing to do.

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As Taipei prepares to host the largest LGBT Pride parade in Asia on Saturday, the question of legalizing same-sex marriage in Taiwan is once again making headlines, this time with a reinvigorated drive by legislators to pass the necessary amendments to make this possible.

After months — years, in fact — of foot-dragging, the stars appear to be aligned for Taiwan to become the first country in Asia to embrace marriage equality. A larger-than-ever number of legislators now support legalization, with former legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) of the Kuomintang (KMT) becoming the latest to do so. And in the judicial branch, likely appointees have also been sending all the right signals.

Ironically, the largest barrier remains the executive branch of government under President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who made marriage equality a major issue in her platform in the lead-up to the 2016 elections. Her strategy of embracing the ideology of a young and activist civil society in the wake of the Sunflower Movement gave rise to a very progressive legislative branch following the elections, contrasting markedly with the elite-driven technocratic and male-dominated executive she constituted after her electoral victory. As a result, on the issue of marriage equality and other matters, the executive has often been at odds with the legislative, even within President Tsai’s own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Understandably, the Tsai administration’s slow approach to same-sex marriage after May 20 disappointed many in Taiwan, among them members of the LGBTQI community, who had expected quick action on the issue. Such disappointment, which reflects President Tsai’s rather conservative and cautious nature, became more prevalent after her government U-turned on the issue, not only delaying the submission of a study until the end of 2017, but moving away from pushing for a Marriage Equality Act (婚姻平權法) and instead proposing a Same-Sex Partnership Act (同性伴侶法).

None of this is necessary. For years, opponents of same-sex marriage in Taiwan (primarily religious groups, including the small Christian minority) have struggled to come up with a single valid, science-based or even philosophical argument explaining why Taiwan should not legalize same-sex marriage. Protect the Family Alliance Secretary-General Chang Shou-yi (張守一) certainly did not help their case last week during his appearance on a TV talk show, where he exhibited not only his ignorance, but like many others of his ilk, his uncanny obsession with sexuality.

What this all means is that marriage equality is actually a logical move for the Tsai administration that sooner rather than later will need to start showing some successes. It is an opportunity to deliver on promises, to highlight Taiwan’s modernity, and to distinguish it on the international stage at a time when authoritarian China does its best to isolate the island-nation.

Even from a purely political standpoint, the advantages of making such a move clearly outweigh the costs, which given current trends in Taiwanese society will be quite negligible indeed — support for legalization is stratospheric among young Taiwanese and represents a majority overall. In other words, unlike, say, abolishing the death penalty, President Tsai and her DPP’s chances in future elections (the next ones are a long two years from now anyway) will not be negatively affected by voters who actively oppose legislation on marriage equality, as their numbers are simply too small and can be easily compensated for by the votes gained due to the president showing leadership and delivering on her electoral promises.

Here’s a real chance for President Tsai to show the moral rectitude and vision that those who voted for her in January are waiting to see.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White

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