Heat on DPP as Marriage Equality Draws Thousands to Streets

Heat on DPP as Marriage Equality Draws Thousands to Streets
Photo Credit: Edward White

What you need to know

Pressure is mounting on Taiwan’s ruling party to advance marriage equality, as religious lobbying threatens to derail the passage of legislation.

Thousands of Taiwanese are protesting outside the Legislative Yuan – Taiwan’s Parliament – today as lobbying, mainly from religious quarters, is putting proposed measures to achieve marriage equality on shaky ground.

In stark contrast to the festival-like atmosphere among the 80,000 people at the Taiwan Pride Parade last month, impassioned speakers from the LGBT community took aim at President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party this morning, calling for action to make same-sex marriage a reality in Taiwan.

The Legislative Yuan’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee is scheduled to meet today to discuss legislation to amend Taiwan’s Civil Code to allow same-sex couples to marry. The measure is understood to be the simplest and fastest way to legalize gay marriage. It was proposed by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女).

“It is very, very important to show our support [for the amendments],” Ashley Wu (巫緒樑), a prominent LGBT rights advocate, told The News Lens International on the eve of the protest.

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Photo Credit: 「呂欣潔 Jennifer Lu」粉絲專頁
The crowd of thousands builds in Taipei this morning in support of legalizing same-sex marriage.

Impact of religious lobbying

Wu, who is a board member for Tongzhi Hotline Association, says that the DPP is facing pressure from longtime supporters in Christian groups who want the party to drop same-sex marriage legislation. In an effort to appease both sides, the party is rumored to be proposing a “civil partnership bill,” which would essentially create a separate legal process same-sex marriage.

“There is a fundamental difference between the two [proposals],” Wu says. “We are strongly against having a separate law because that would be discrimination against the LGBT community.”

Separate legislation for same-sex marriage would “isolate” the LGBT community from the general public, he says.

He says that the DPP – which used marriage equality as part of its campaign platform before the January general election – has still not given the LGBT community a clear decision that it will support Legislator Yu’s proposal.

“It is very strange to send different messages from the same party,” Wu says.

In recent weeks the anti-same-sex marriage lobby has ramped up its efforts, demanding the government hold a referendum to decide whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalized. A group of protesters last week briefly stormed the parliament as lawmakers met to discuss an amendment to the Civil Code proposed by Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Hsu Yu-Jen (許毓仁).

While the religious groups continue to be the target of much criticism, Wu believes that they are having a serious impact on the marriage equality campaign. He says the “main reason” for the DPP’s proposition to have separate civil unions is because of religious lobbying.

Religious groups are “longtime supporters” of the DPP, which has its roots as a protest party under the longtime one-party rule of the KMT, and appear to still hold some influence over certain legislators, he suggests.

“It is very, very hard for the DPP to ignore their voices,” Wu says.

However, for the LGBT community, marriage equality is a human rights issue and should not be caught between competing political interests, Wu says.

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CREDIT: Olivia Yang
An estimated 15,000 people gathered outside of Taiwan’s parliament in Taipei, on Nov. 17, 2016, to protest proposed law amendments that would legalize same-sex marriage.

Counting the votes

After today’s protest, a key lingering uncertainty is whether the proposed marriage equality legislation will be passed by the Legislative Yuan.

Previous attempts to pass similar legislation failed in recent years, but Wu believes society’s views on the issue has “changed a lot since two to three years earlier.”

He points to public polls showing more than 50 percent support for marriage equality. This is “totally different” from the 30 to 40 percent observed several years ago, he says. He adds that the level of support is much higher among people under the age of 50.

“There is a big difference in the younger generation,” he says.

The DPP holds 69 of the 113 seats in Taiwan’s parliament. The next biggest party, the KMT, holds 35. All five legislators from the reformist New Power Party (NPP) and at least 11 from the KMT are understood to now openly support the law change.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the potential “swing” votes of DPP lawmakers, support from those KMT legislators could be “important” when the legislation goes to a vote, Wu says.

He notes that in the past KMT legislators were forbidden by the party's conservative leadership to support the advancement of marriage equality.

“From what we’ve heard, unless the conflict becomes bigger the KMT will allow legislators to vote [in support], Wu says. “That makes a huge difference.”

If the legislation can be passed into law, Taiwan would be the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

Editor: Mario Yang