Taiwan’s highest court is set to make a landmark ruling tomorrow on whether the country's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The Constitutional Court, also known as the Council of Grand Justices, began public hearings on March 24, after cases were brought to the court by long-time LGBT rights activist Chi Chia-wei (祁家威) and the Taipei City Government.

Chi petitioned for the case to be heard when his attempt to register his marriage with his partner in 2013 was rejected. The Taipei City government presented a petition due to growing requests for same-sex marriage.

The hearing saw supporters and opponents debate whether Taiwan's Civil Code allows same-sex marriage. Currently, Article 972 of the Civil Code states, “An agreement to marry shall be made by the male and the female parties in their own [con]cord.” Proponents of same-sex marriage argue that this article does not limit marriage to one male and one female.

If the Constitutional Court agrees that the Civil Code forbids same-sex marriage, then it has to decide whether the article in the Civil Code is in breach of Taiwan’s constitution. The constitution guarantees the freedoms and rights of the people as long as it is not “detrimental to social order or public welfare.”

The Council will also rule on the constitutionality of drafting separate civil partnership laws to regulate same-sex marriage.

Taiwan is the first country in Asia to allow a constitutional interpretation relating to same-sex marriage.

The court's ruling may be key in determining the success or failure of draft amendments to the Civil Code, already introduced to Taiwan's parliament, which would allow same-sex marriage.

One of the bills, drafted by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女), has passed its first reading and a committee review in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, but it still needs to pass second and third readings before becoming law. Separate bills have also been proposed by the New Power Party (NPP) and by Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Jason Hsu (許毓仁).

Rocky road to equality

A glimmer of hope for marriage equality appeared on Sept. 8, 2012, after a draft law amendment, written by the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Partnership Rights, was proposed. The bill passed the first reading at the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament, in October 2013, but hope was dashed as anti-LGBT groups began spreading videos about AIDS and organizing mass rallies in November 2013.

When President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was inaugurated on May 20 last year, it seemed like Taiwan would quickly push forward amendments to its Civil Code and allow same-sex marriage. Tsai had supported LGBT rights during her campaign, appearing in a video saying, “In the face of love, everyone is equal.”

However, activists have since accused the Tsai administration and the Executive Yuan of stalling on marriage equality. Although Tsai herself met with supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage — a meeting which led to the two sides agreeing to talks — but for many, it seems marriage equality has been put on the backburner by the Tsai administration.

After the DPP’s draft amendment passed its first reading in the Legislative Yuan in November last year, opponents of same-sex marriage called for a nation-wide referendum on the issue.

These primarily Christian anti-LGBT groups’ protests started out small with a gathering of a bout 100 people in Taipei on Nov. 14, 2016. However, mass rallies continued to be held. According to the organizers, their rallies drew 80,000 in Taipei on Dec. 4, 2016, and another 50,000 and 40,000 each in Kaohsiung and Taichung.

Anti-LGBT groups claimed that legalizing same-sex marriage would have an adverse effect on Taiwan’s society, including the possibilities of an AIDS epidemic, bestiality, rape, incest and “homosexual brainwashing” of children.

The opposition to same-sex marriage led KMT and People First Party (PFP) members to call for nationwide hearings and prompted some DPP legislators to propose a “separate but equal” civil partnership law instead.

Rallies for and against marriage equality have continued through the first six months of this year, and the result of the constitutional interpretation may become the compass from which direction Taiwan’s legislature will follow.

Timeline of same-sex marriage amendments in Taiwan:

1986: Chi Chia-wei requests notarized marriage between two males. He is the first person in Taiwan to call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, and his request is denied by the government.

1996: Author Hsu Yu-sheng (許佑生) and his Uruguayan partner Gray Harriman hold Taiwan’s first public gay wedding ceremony.

2000: Chi Chia-wei requests a constitutional interpretation on same-sex marriage, but is rejected by the Grand Justices.

2006: Democratic Progressive Party legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) proposes a same-sex marriage law, but it does not pass the first reading.

2011: Gay rights activist Nelson Chen (陳敬學) and his partner Kao Chih-wei (高治瑋) filed an administrative lawsuit for official recognition of their marriage at the Taipei High Court. They withdrew the suit in January 2013.

2013: The Taiwan Alliance to Promote Partnership Rights drafts a marriage equality bill, a civil partnership bill, and a family bill. The bills passed a first reading in October. The bill stalls after protests from anti-LGBT groups.

2014: The Legislative Yuan’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee reviews the marriage equality bill, the first time in Asia a marriage equality bill is heard at a parliament. However, the review ends with no clear conclusion.

October 2016: Jacques Picoux, a French professor at the National Taiwan University commits suicide, sparking renewed interest in LGBT rights in Taiwan.

November 2016: Draft amendments to the Civil Code to allow same-sex marriage proposed by DPP legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) pass the first reading at the Legislative Yuan.

December 2016: Legislator Yu Mei-nu’s draft amendments pass a review by the Legislative Yuan’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, making it the first same-sex marriage bill to pass reviews at the Legislative Yuan.

March 24, 2017: Taiwan’s Constitutional Court holds a hearing to debate the constitutionality of the Civil Code. The verdict will be announced on May 24.