TAIPEI — It was back on May 24, 2017 that Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled that the constitutional right to equality and freedom of marriage also takes into account same-sex couples. Yet it took two years until the moment earlier this month — after layers of difficulties, including three homophobic referenda led by conservative and Christian groups — that same-sex couples could finally tie the knot.
Still, notwithstanding this major breakthrough, much more work remains to be done to guarantee true equality. While the Constitutional Court granted "equal protection of marriage freedoms," the recently passed bill addresses only "marriage freedom" while its enforcement of "equal protection" is debatable.
This is reflected first in the matter of adoption by LGBTQ couples. In a special law addressed to gay couples, which is not part of the Civil Code, only if a child is genetically related to one member of the couple can the other partner also become the child's adoptive parent. Yet, Taiwan had long allowed a single person the right to adopt, meaning that a single homosexual person is eligible for adoption without any biological relationship.
In other words, while a single LGBTQ person can adopt a child without any blood relation, because the special homosexual marriage law fails to stipulate a provision for the joint adoption, a gay married couple can't jointly adopt a child.
In my opinion, this is a clear legislative oversight and runs counter to the the Constitutional ruling that guarantees "equal protection." Furthermore, it implies that homosexual couples are even less apt than a single person for parenthood.
There is also an issue with international marriages. According to Taiwan's Applied Civil Law Concerning Foreign Affairs, the establishment of a marriage is to be in accordance with the domestic law of each party. That means, only if a foreigner's own country also legalizes same-sex marriage can the person be registered as married in Taiwan with a Taiwanese partner.
The gap between these legal norms shows that the legislators have yet to consider all the angles related to legalizing same-sex marriage. This oversight may not be due to malicious disregard, just like the law previously did not see the real needs of homosexuals who wished to be married. This "invisibility" itself resulted in institutional punishment of LGBTQ groups.
Freddy Lim, member of heavy metal band Chthonic and newly elected legislator holds a sign calling for marriage equality at Taiwan LGBT Pride in October 2016 — Photo: Craig Ferguson/ZUMA Wire
Viewed from the history of Taiwan's gay rights groups, we discover that the focus has never been limited to the right to marry, but rather the pursuit of integral social parity. In other words, marriage parity is regarded as one of the issues involving social justice instead of a separate appeal of the gay rights movement. It has long been true that Taiwan's LGBTQ groups demonstrate their solidarity on issues such as AIDS, old-age, education, handicap etc…, instead of being reduced simply to the battle for marriage rights.
Therefore, even though the legalization of same-sex marriage is an important achievement of gay groups, it is not the end of their movement. After all, marriage makes up only a part of people's lives, and not even part of the lives of others at all.
At the same time, one must admit that quite a number of Taiwanese people remain unconvinced by the Constitutional ruling about LGBTQ marriage rights. Though it is the Constitutional ruling that promoted the promulgation of the special law granting same-sex marriage, a lot of effort is required to push society toward progress on this topic.
From the debates of the past few years, the anti-LGBTQ groups principally made up of conservative Christians demonstrated their strong organizational ability, political networking, as well as strong financial resources. We should expect even more opposition from the anti-LGBTQ groups in the months and years to come. We can improve the way that homosexuals are treated based on academic research, the Constitutional ruling and the revision of laws; yet, solid social changes still require long-term efforts, and these changes are often implicit and slow.
Their number is small, but their voice will always be loud.
The most focal opponents are driven by their religious beliefs, though they are not a majority in Taiwan. As statistics show, Taiwan's overall Christian population is about 5%, and among them many still support gay rights. It is however worth noting that regrettably, based on my personal experiences, it is particularly difficult to communicate and change the homophobia of a stubborn religious position. Although their number is small, their voice in the media will always be loud.
What is no less worrying is that ordinary folks who are unfamiliar with gay issues might adopt a relatively conservative stance because of misunderstandings or false information even though they have no homophobic motives.
This is reflected in the work of the "Little bees of equal marriage rights' – a Taiwanese group of volunteers who used to go on the streets advocating the idea of marriage parity. They discovered that the majority of Taiwanese people were not opposed to LGBTQ rights, but rather had very limited knowledge about homosexuality.
This experience also echoes my study and observation in the Asian American community. I found that certain parents expressed their unwillingness to accept their children's homosexuality out of anxiety that their offspring will encounter bullies or employment difficulties, rather than rejecting the homosexuals.
In this light, we can say that most people opposed to LGBTQ rights do not have homophobic motives. It's just that the public needs access to accurate information related to homosexuality, and more social dialogue that will follow.