Court Ruling Could Make Taiwan First Place in Asia to Legalize Gay Marriage

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“Everyone is very happy,” said Woody Wang, president of Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy. “We don’t want to see the legislature dither on this.”


Daphne Chiang, 32, trying on a wedding dress this month with her same-sex partner, Kenny Jhuang, 33, in Taipei. The ruling on Wednesday came as bills to legalize same-sex marriage stalled. Credit Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Cindy Su, of the Lobby Alliance for LGBT Human Rights, said she was “excited and proud” of the court’s ruling, but also eager to see legislation passed as soon as possible. “We hope that we don’t have to wait another two years before we can get married,” said Ms. Su, whose marriage to her partner in Canada was not recognized in Taiwan.

The court’s ruling came in response to two petitions to review the current law, one brought by Chi Chia-wei, a longtime gay rights campaigner. Mr. Chi favors amending the Civil Code to define marriage as a union of two spouses, arguing that a separate marriage law for gays and lesbians would be unacceptable.

“For us, there is only one choice,” Mr. Chi said in an interview, adding that separate laws for same-sex couples would be “a total disaster.”

The second petition for a review was brought by the city government of Taipei, the capital, which was sued after rejecting marriage applications from same-sex couples.

The ruling of the court, formally known as the Council of Grand Justices, came as bills to legalize same-sex marriage have stalled after passing an initial reading late last year. The current legislative session ends on May 31, and the next session opens in September.

“I think it’s an important and monumental decision,” said Hsu Yu-jen, a lawmaker for the opposition Kuomintang who sponsored a same-sex marriage bill. “And I want to urge the president and my colleagues in the Legislative Yuan to move ahead with this and show Taiwan’s progressive values to the world.”


A banner in Taipei on Wednesday opposing the ruling by the constitutional court read, “Constitutional interpretation on same-sex marriage violates procedural justice.” Credit Sam Yeh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

With local elections in 2018 and a presidential election in 2020, Mr. Hsu said that the governing Democratic Progressive Party may be hesitant to push same-sex marriage legislation, which has been met with strong opposition from conservative groups and churches in central and southern Taiwan.

President Tsai Ing-wen, who took office last year, had declared her support for same-sex marriage during the election campaign, saying, “In the face of love, everyone is equal.” Since then, however, Ms. Tsai has yet to throw much political capital behind the issue. When Taipei’s streets were occupied by rallies both for and against same-sex marriage in November and December, her silence surprised some who had seen her as an ally.

Responding to a question about her expectations for the legalization of same-sex marriage at a Dec. 31 meeting with local and foreign journalists, Ms. Tsai said she believed that Taiwan’s handling of the issue would be “a test of the maturity of our society.”

The apparent momentum that the same-sex marriage bills enjoyed at the end of last year dissipated this spring, after groups opposed to the bills threatened to mobilize voters against lawmakers who supported the other side. The announcement in February that the constitutional court would hear the petitions filed by Mr. Chi and the Taipei government effectively allowed wary lawmakers to postpone dealing with the issue.

For Mr. Chi, who was arrested in 1986 after publicly declaring that he was gay while Taiwan was still under martial law, the ruling on Wednesday was another step in a decades-long campaign for greater rights.

“In Asia, every country’s situation is different,” he said. “But this should certainly offer some encouragement to different societies to consider following in Taiwan’s footsteps and giving gays and lesbians the right to marry.”

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