Ahead of Pride, Taiwan Still Waits for Same-sex Marriage

本圖僅示意圖。Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
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Despite the decision of Taiwan's constitutional court to amend Taiwan's Civil Code in favor of same-sex marriage in May, the country's institutions are dragging their feet on implementing legislation.

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Tomorrow, Taipei will host what is expected to be East Asia’s largest ever celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and curious (LGBTQ) folk.

More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the city’s annual Pride parade, now in its 15th year. Delegations from 20 countries will swell the streets as revelers converge on Taipei’s Ketagalan Boulevard along three separate marching routes.

To all intents and purpose, the LGBTQ community has more reason to celebrate than ever. On May 24, Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled to negate the Civil Code of Taiwan's definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, paving the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage. The decision put Taiwan on the cusp of being the first country in Asia to legally countenance alternatives to the union of a man and a woman in matrimony.

There is a two-year time limit from the constitutional court ruling until gay couples are allowed to register their union under existing marriage rules. The clock is ticking, and if May 24, 2019, arrives without parliamentary action, there could be chaos. — Kuomintang congressman Jason Hsu.

Yet five months have passed without the country’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, taking up the mantle and processing the mandated legislation. As of July this year, same-sex couples could register their unions, but the rights afforded to these partnerships significantly lag those afforded to married heterosexual couples.

There is a two-year time limit from the constitutional court ruling until gay couples are allowed to register their union under existing marriage rules. The clock is ticking, and if May 24, 2019, arrives without parliamentary action, there could be chaos, according to Kuomintang legislator Jason Hsu (許毓仁).

“The municipal registration office will not know what to do with their certificate and their IDs; hospitals will not know how to process them. A lot of contingency plans must be put in place,” he said.

Hsu blames Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for not pushing the legislation through in what he calls a six-month “golden window” immediately after the May 24 decision.

“Politics is blocking the process. Now the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party of president Tsai) won’t risk tabling this before the 2018 elections in November,” he said, “The parties will announce their candidates at the beginning of January and the whole year will be campaigning. Thus, the most likely time to resolve this will be the first half of 2019.”

Hsu said such a timeline puts pressure on the legislature to iron out the implementation phase of the legislation ahead of the deadline. The KMT legislator urged his DPP counterparts to table the legislation at a special session of the Legislative Yuan in early 2018.

However, DPP congresswoman Yu Meinu (尤美女) said in an emailed reply to questions that the core problem is not the timeline but the interpretation of the constitutional court's decision, particularly as regards the children and families of same-sex couples.

The Executive Yuan, the executive branch of Taiwan's government, is currently deliberating whether to launch an an entirely new law for same sex couples. "Then there would be much more discussion, and the Legislative Yuan would be the next battlefield," Yu said.

Instead, the congresswoman advocated for an amendment to the Civil Code. “Amending the Civil Code is best, most equal and most efficient way to legalize same-sex marriage, and give equal rights to their children and families,” she said.

Asked what the most important related legislation would be around either eventuality, Hsu said building a framework for the transfer of financial assets was most important. “You cannot sign off anything related to inheritance. Medical records is another one,” he added.

This week Hsu invited Evan Low, a U.S. Democrat representative of California’s 28th Assembly District and the serving chair of the state’s LGBT caucus, to visit Taipei. At a press conference welcoming Low, DPP congresswoman Yu Meinu (尤美女) also pushed her parliamentary colleagues to progress the legislation and warned of the dangers of too much delay.
For his part, Low said the world was watching Taiwan and the lead it was taking on equality issues, not least the election of its first female president — a feat the U.S. has tried and failed to emulate. He recounted how in his role as mayor of Campbell city in Santa Clara he had been allowed to officiate at weddings, though he could not marry himself, host blood banks on city land though ineligible to donate, or recommend people as recruits to the West Point military academy though barred from such service himself.

Low recalled the experience of California with Proposition 8, a pernicious piece of legislation that overturned a 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court of California to legalize same-sex marriage. It was 2013 — a full five years later — before the legislative process deemed the amendment unconstitutional. His point was clear: whatever victories are won in the fight for equal rights, however significant, there will always be attempts to roll back the ground that has been gained.

“In California we have been through this before, less than a decade ago we were having the same discussion as you are here,” Low said. “The LGBT community has a higher percentage of homelessness and depression. Higher rates of suicide, non-equal access to healthcare. My belief is that as government that we have an obligation to serve everybody and offer everyone equal treatment under the law.”

Taiwan celebrated a victory in May and has earned a right to celebrate tomorrow. Once the party is done, the work of building consensus as to how best to serve the LGBTQ community and their families must begin afresh.

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