Taiwanese Couples' Agonizing Wait for Same-sex Marriage

Taiwanese Couples' Agonizing Wait for Same-sex Marriage
Credit: Yang Jing-wei (楊精偉)
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Taiwan was praised for its progressive steps towards marriage equality — but the process has stalled.

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“Imagine not being allowed to marry the person you love. Now add 13 years to it.”

This is the case for Jason, who moved from Canada to Taiwan in 1999, where he met his partner. At the time it would have been unthinkable to embrace his partner in the street.

Things now are not entirely different now. Jason explains that even the smallest displays of affection such as holding his partner’s hand in public is still an uncomfortable experience. “Think of the added stress of having to hide your authentic self,” he said.

“This is life in our community. I just want to be married to the man I love.”

Final
Credit: Jennifer Creery
It's easier to be openly gay than it was even a few years ago.

His hopes could soon become a reality in Taiwan, making it the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. But for many couples frustrated by the lack of legislative progress, this day cannot come quickly enough. “We want to have a child one day and my biological clock is ticking,” said Jason. “It is a basic human instinct that you have to suppress.”

In a society where people continue to view homosexuality as unconventional, Jason believes that marriage equality would be a positive step towards acceptance, “Sometimes I look at our little dogs and think, ‘their lives are so much better than ours’. Why can’t we have the same?”

Within two years the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) must enshrine marriage equality into law. But in their last parliamentary session, the Legislative Yuan failed to process the mandated legislation. If the government does not act before the May 24, 2019, it could cause chaos for registration offices unable to process the sheer number of marriage applications.

Time is running out

Time is of the essence for some same-sex couples. Nelson Hu (胡勝翔), Secretary-General of the Taiwan Gender Queer Rights Advocacy Alliance (TGQRAA), cannot wait much longer. His partner of 12 years was diagnosed with a form of hemangioma, which means he could die soon.

His situation only intensifies the seriousness of government inaction over same-sex marriage; if the bill is not put forward soon, couples like theirs will be denied many of the social welfare benefits granted to married couples. Nelson believes that this boils down to the DPP not wanting to push the policy at all. “They have backtracked on their promises,” he said.

“I think that it is inappropriate for our government to tie up social welfare with marriage,” Nelson explains. “But since we cannot change the system in one day, and lots of couples like me and my partner cannot wait any longer, we need to let same-sex marriage to open up the system a bit.”

Others argue that they should not have to cite pressing situations like his in order to achieve human rights. It was only a year ago that French professor, Jacques Picoux (畢安生) committed suicide, after reportedly becoming depressed from being denied legal rights to make medical decisions for his partner, Tseng Ching-chao, shortly before his death from cancer.

While many celebrate the ruling as a victory for the LGBT community, it is one that is undercut with sadness. How many lives must be lost, or wishes left unfulfilled, before equality is fully achieved?

Joyce Deng (鄧筑媛), from the Marriage Equality Coalition, says “Couples like Nelson and his partner, or other LGBT families with kids need our law to recognize their rights to be spouses or have families as soon as possible. We think the government should propose their version of the Civil Code amendment within this year.”

Another distraction

“It is an excuse,” replied Anthony Lin, who at sixteen, left home to live alone after his parents refused to accept him as gay. For many his situation is all too familiar; as he explains that it is not uncommon for gay people to be rejected by their families after coming out.

As a result he believes that it is high time that policy reflects the lives of the LGBT community. “For us the government should be reliable and effective in working for people’s rights. Our rights have been ignored for many years,” Anthony said. “After winning the presidential election, Tsai Ing-Wen (蔡英文) has not shown any support for the gay community.”

His partner, Harold, sits next to him nodding in agreement, “The politicians supported gay marriage as a way to win votes, but now it feels like we have been fooled.” Initially he claims that the marriage equality became something to look forward to; now he fears that their hopes will soon be dashed.

Chiung-wen Chang is a filmmaker also hoping to marry her partner soon. Like many in love, the couple wants to support each other: “I asked her what the difference is between married and unmarried for us?” Chiung-wen recalls, in a conversation with her girlfriend. “She answered without hesitation, that I could legally share her assets, do taxes together and save some money!”

Without marriage equality, same-sex couples are denied many of the legal securities afforded to married heterosexual couples. Chiung-wen adds, “That way we get to be real adults, responsible and independent. I can become another person’s half and to build a family.” It is this equality which she believes would give them validation in a society where they are still viewed as different.

But tides are changing, and for Anthony, this was shown by those who he felt opposed his sexuality the most: his parents. In a visit to their home last week, his mother surprised them all by referring to his boyfriend as her son. “It was a touching moment,” said Harold, “you could tell she was trying.”

When progress is slow it is easy to lose sight of why same-sex marriage is so important. As Jason says, “Love: that is all it is about.”

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