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2019 Taiwan Pride: Queerness in Asia

Taiwan’s Same-Sex Marriage Law Yet to Fulfill Marriage Equality

2019/11/01 , News
Rik Glauert
Photo Credit: CNA
Rik Glauert
Rik Glauert is a freelance journalist and student based in Taipei. He specializes in politics and human rights and has previously reported from China, Hong Kong, and Myanmar.

As Taiwan celebrated same-sex marriage win with the largest-ever pride parade on October 26, these couples are still fighting for their rights.

Mei-hui, a Taiwanese lesbian in her 30s, planned to propose to her girlfriend of six years under the stars near Taitung on Taiwan’s east coast. She prepared a video slideshow with some of their most romantic moments together since they met in 2013 when she was traveling in the west of China.

She had been planning the proposal ever since Taiwan’s highest court in 2017 ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriage within two years. Mei-hui saw marriage as a “way home” to a stable life as she and her girlfriend struggled to set up a life in China together.

But, when the same-sex marriage law finally passed through Taiwan’s parliament in May 2019, it did not allow couples like Mei-hui and her girlfriend to marry.

According to Taiwan’s current legislation, transnational same-sex marriages are dependent on the related law in the foreign partner’s country of origin. As Mei-hui’s girlfriend hails from China, where same-sex marriage is illegal, it remains impossible for them to marry in Taiwan.

“We were angry about it,” Mei-hui explained when they realized there would be no way for them to register. “Because of this, we suffer a lot in our daily lives.”

台灣同志遊行登場 民眾熱情參與
Photo Credit: CNA
‘Very close call’

Same-sex couples left out of the landmark human rights win are becoming increasingly vocal in Taiwan.

Macau-Taiwan couple Guzifer Leong and Shin-chi Chen earlier this month launched an administrative appeal with the help of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) after the household registration office rejected their application for marriage.

The crux of the problem is Article 46 of the Act Governing the Choice of Law in Civil Matters involving Foreign Elements, Leong said, which states “the formation of a marriage is governed by the national laws of each party.”

Article 8 of the same act, however, allows Taiwan to ignore the foreign state’s law if it violates the “good morals” of Taiwan. Based on this provision alone, transnational couples should be allowed to register their marriage in Taiwan.

Leong, Chen, and the TAPCPR pointed to the fact that Cambodia’s law forbids its female citizens from marrying foreign husbands in certain countries, but there have been cases in which the Taiwanese government cited Article 8 to recognize marriages.

Earlier, the Judicial Yuan in discussions with the TAPCPR encouraged the rights group to launch an appeal, said Leong. A court is expected to rule on the issue in February.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker and LGBT rights defender, Yu Mei-nu, told The News Lens she has urged the Judicial Yuan to propose an amendment to the act and encouraged them to “hurry up.”

Asked how transnational couples got left behind during the passing of the same-sex marriage bill, Yu said the issue was discussed at early stages. But it took a dramatic turn in 2018 when anti-LGBT groups successfully petitioned for a referendum on whether to alter the country’s Civil Code to include same-sex couples, or to invoke a separate law to recognize same-sex marriage.

In a devastating blow to the LGBT community, about 70 percent of voters elected for a separate law.

Yu said the referendum results, along with the influence of anti-LGBT lobbying groups and the impending two-year deadline to legislate set by the court, meant lawmakers had "limited opportunity to discuss all of the related issues.”

To even pass the bill, she said, was a “very close call.”

同婚專法三讀通過  挺同民眾感動落淚
Photo Credit: CNA
It is the beginning, not the end

TAPCPR said they had consulted hundreds of transnational same-sex couples with individuals from more than 30 countries as far as way as Honduras and Italy.

"Everyone’s situation is different, and the problems are varied, but in the end, all the problems are centred around being reunited with loved ones,” the group said.

Leong told The News Lens that since he met Chen in 2015, they had overcome a number of obstacles, including opposition from Chen’s family after they came out about their relationship.

Eventually, Leong left his career and family in Macau to be with Chen in Taiwan, with the expectation they would soon be able to marry.

The pair campaigned together for marriage equality prior to Taiwan’s referendum and faced the attacks and misinformation spread by anti-gay groups together.

“All the experience helped us clarify each other is the right person in our life. We face everything together, even this time we promote for the transnational gay marriage, we support each other all the time,” he said.

He and Chen led one of the sections of the pride parade to raise attention to the issue of transnational marriage on October 26.

He said this year’s pride was an “important milestone” but that LGBT rights promotion should not stop with the latest legislation. “It is the beginning, not the end,” he said.

For Mei-hui, the instability of China-Taiwan relations made things even harder for the pair to build a stable life together.

China announced in August it would stop issuing independent travel permits for Taiwan. It is nearly impossible for Mei-hui’s girlfriend to visit Taiwan now, and Mei-hui’s marriage proposal plans were ruined.

Instead, earlier this month, Mei-hui had to make an improvised proposal in her apartment in a big city in western China.

With a taxi waiting downstairs to whisk her to the airport, she quickly prepared some music and the rings as her fiancée dropped off the rubbish downstairs.

“It was more like a comedy,” Mei-hui said, comparing the rushed affair to her dream proposal.

After remaining quiet about the situation for fear of riling authorities in China, Mei-hui is now determined to speak out for transnational couples missing out on equality.

"We are even more vulnerable and marginalized than the rest of the LGBT community,” she said. "In a world like this, anyone can be a chess piece.”

READ NEXT: Challenges Ahead as Japan Follows Taiwan’s Path to Marriage Equality

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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2019 Taiwan Pride: Queerness in Asia:

In May 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, which makes this year’s pride month all the more meaningful for the LGBT community. To celebrate Taiwan's pride month, we're going to cover queer culture and LGBT progress in Taiwan and the rest of Asia.

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