It’s Make or Break Time for Marriage Equality in Taiwan

It’s Make or Break Time for Marriage Equality in Taiwan
Photo Credit: Ludovic Bertron@ CC BY-SA 2.0

What you need to know

By the end of the day on December 17, we’ll know if marriage equality is doomed to fail.   

This weekend and next could determine whether marriage equality has any hope of passing in the near future. While the New York Times overly optimistically praises Taiwan as a “same-sex marriage pioneer” and asks if Taiwan will be the first in Asia to pass it into law, locally opponents of the idea are steering it towards defeat. But there is still one hope for proponents: march.

A few weeks ago strong marriage equality advocate Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), the pioneer who in 2005 introduced the first such bill in the Legislative Yuan, estimated that collectively 56 legislators supported the three marriage equality bills put forth by members of the the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and the New Power Party (NPP). That’s one shy of a majority in the 113-member body. While the small NPP caucus is fully behind marriage equality, there is significant opposition within both the DPP and the KMT, both of which have strong conservative wings within their parties. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), though she’s expressed personal support for ending marriage segregation, is refusing to expend any political capital on the issue and has washed her hands of the issue, saying “I believe that in the near future, all members of the Legislative Yuan will freely express their opinions on the amendments according to their own beliefs, values, judgments and the direction of public opinion. Regardless of the outcome, I will respect the decision of the Legislative Yuan.” (Translated quote from the excellent Taiwan Law Blog). From within her own government the Ministry of Justice is promoting a civil partnership law in opposition to marriage equality.

Then DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) threw a bomb into the mix by introducing a civil partnership plan to the legislature, outraging equality supporters and further splitting the party. This option would give some more weak-kneed supporters of marriage equality a way out politically. The plan also seems to have gained traction with the wider public, who when asked the binary question of do-you-or-don’t-you support marriage equality the does reliably outnumber the don’ts, usually by majority. With the civil union in the mix the picture is far less clear, with more supporting the civil partnership option than outright equality and two-thirds believing that a separate law for same-sex couples would not be discriminatory.

It is now unclear if - or how many - of the 56 lawmakers cited the DDP’s Hsiao as supporting marriage equality will bolt to the civil partnership option instead, but it’s likely that many are considering it after mass rallies by opponents drew an estimated 200,000 people total in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung, dwarfing a recent pro-marriage equality rally of about 15,000 only a week earlier and even beating the popular 80,000 strong Taipei Pride Parade. Currently, with the opposition now looking stronger, it looks increasingly grim for the marriage equality camp.

To save marriage equality as a possibility any time soon, the next two weekends will be crucial. First, this Saturday a mass rally is called for by supporters in Taipei on Ketagalan Boulevard. Second, Saturday, Dec. 17, is the Taichung Pride Parade at 1:30 p.m. at People’s Park. You better be sure legislators will be watching this very, very closely to see which way the wind is blowing. If the numbers significantly dwarf that of the opposition rallies last weekend, then the issue is back in play. If the numbers aren’t so dramatically bigger, then the situation remains as it is now. If the numbers are weaker, then marriage equality will fail in the legislature, and will be off the table for the foreseeable future. This will be a major test: Is the support expressed by many because it is a fashionable cause, or is there enough genuine, passionate support to get people motivated enough to attend these rallies. By the end of the day on December 17, we’ll know if marriage equality is doomed to fail in Legislative Yuan.

Editor: Edward White