By Ishani Chettri ('20)
On May 24, Taiwan made history as it became the first Asian country to pass a same-sex marriage law, which was surprisingly in time for Pride Month.
However, what people may have not known was that this law was inevitably going to pass if a final decision was not made on May 24.
According to the New York Times, the Taiwanese constitutional court had ruled that the Civil Code’s definition of marriage as exclusively between a man and woman was unconstitutional in 2017.
Since then, the court set a two year deadline for the Legislative Yuan regarding the revision of the marriage law to include same-sex couples. If the government did not abide to the revision of the law, same-sex couples would automatically be allowed to have their marriages legally registered.
Because the deadline was approaching soon, Taiwanese citizens took to the streets on May 17 as they voiced various slogans advocating for same-sex marriage outside the legislature where lawmakers would be voting for the marriage law.
The verdict on May 17 was that majority of the Taiwan Legislative Yuan had voted for a draft law known as the “The Enforcement Act of the Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748.” The law took effect on May 24 with hundreds of same-sex couples getting married and finally have their marriages legally registered.
According to Amnesty International, while the law did pass, many conservatives and anti-LGBTQ+ groups suggested two bills that granted same-sex couples less rights by referring to the cohabitation or partnership of same-sex couples rather than marriage to pass instead of the marriage law.
Many LGBTQ+ advocates, politicians, and the government under President Tsai Ing-wen rejected the two bills as they were seen as compromise bills for those who did not wish to allow the legal union of same-sex couples.
As mentioned before the Taiwanese constitutional court ruled in 2017 that same-sex couples could legally get married, but why did Taiwan have to wait two years to finally have a law passed to grant this action?
First of all, current President Tsai Ing-wen won her presidency in 2016 and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party, took over the Taiwanese government as the majority. Due to their left-leaning views, President Ing-wen’s and the DPP heavily supported same-sex marriage, but were forced to retract from the issue because campaigns from various anti-LGBTQ+ groups such as churches and conservatives severely disagreed with same-sex marriage.
The Taiwanese government had to hold multiple referendums - where citizens vote on an issue that the government has to grant - concerning same-sex marriage where majority of the voters would oppose the action. The government’s response to the opposing referendums was to not alter its current civil law definition of marriage, but to enact a special law just for same-sex couples as stated by BBC.
While it is great celebration for not only Taiwanese citizens but also for the LGBTQ+ community all over the world, the marriage law will not allow same-sex couples to adopt non-biological children as the civil law does for hetereosexual couples. According to the New York Times, same-sex couples will only be allowed to adopt previous biological children from their partners.
There is also the question of surrogacy for same-sex couples and whether in the future will same-sex couples be given the right to build a family the same way as heterosexual couples can by the civil law.
Yet another question for this monumental event is how can Taiwan pass such a law that China did not interfere in?
Well, Taiwan is not recognized as an individual sovereign state by majority of the countries in the world along with the United Nations. Technically, Taiwan is under China’s rule territory-wise as its known as the Republic of China and recognized as a province of China.
Additionally, Taiwan follows the One-China Policy that states China and Taiwan are only one country despite the existence of two governments. There is the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) which govern China and Taiwan respectively. Basically, Taiwan is ‘owned’ by China, even though many citizens want independence, but the state is allowed to govern itself. Taiwan doesn’t have individual sovereignty but is allowed to make laws and such without the interference of China’s government.
Within Taiwan, there are two parties known as the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The KMT supports and follows the One-China Policy along with a modification of the policy known as the 1992 Consensus where the party recognizes Taiwan and China as one sovereign state, but disagree on which government has control over the state. Meanwhile, the DPP including President Ing-wen refuse to recognize the 1992 Consensus as they desire Taiwan to be its own independent state and have its own government. They also believe that people should have the choice of independence without the intervention of outside forces (China).
Taiwan was able to pass this marriage law because it acts under the ROC, which China does not control. So while China may not agree with the concept of same-sex marriage nor advocate for same-sex rights, Taiwan has the ability to grant the LGBTQ+ community rights without China’s input.
So what does this mean for the LGBTQ+ communities in the surrounding countries and Asia in general? This Taiwanese law is only one of the first steps Asia has taken for the LGBTQ+ community along with India decriminalizing gay sex in September of 2018. Even Hong Kong’s constitutional court ruled the same-sex couples in Hong Kong have the same rights to spousal visas as married heterosexual couples as stated by the New York Times.
But how does this issue connect to the United States of America and especially to South Brunswick? Despite the law passing in a country on the other side of the world, SBHS students who identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community commented on the historic moment.
Junior Dylan Stenger said, “It’s been a struggle for us since we didn’t pass a same-sex marriage law til 2015 and it sucks that the people in Taiwan had to wait until 2019. But we should continue to be LGBTQ+ activists as unbelivably people have to be taught to accept people especially with the types of environments they grow up in.”
The LGBTQ+ community has been advocating for not only its rights but also for its existence in every part of the world including South Brunswick. SBHS even has its own PRISM club (formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance club) advised by Guidance Counselor, Ms. Anastasia Marcella that holds meetings with those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and are allies of the community.
Ms. Marcella said, “Well, the NJ state curriculum is actually changing by trying to include more teaching of LGBTQ+ issues and people as well as changing the title of Race, Class, and Gender class to include LGBT issues in its title. Students themselves can get involved in clubs and activities like the PRISM alliance as a way to make the school a more inclusive and safe place where everyone can grow. Eventually, these students can then take what they have learned from high school to college and inevitably to the workforce, which benefits the future of everyone.”
The LGBTQ+ community has taken many actions in the past years but still people are ignorant and uneducated about the community in general, which tends to fuel prejudice and hatred towards members of the community.
Junior Devyn Gonzalez explains what SBHS students can do to help out the LGBTQ+ community. He said “In SBHS, if you weren’t gay, then you probably won’t know it’s Pride Month. I think that we should recognize Pride month as we do Black History Month or Women’s History Month. Also asking questions that make people check themselves and their xenophobia to help them realize that the way they think of people is wrong.”
While there are countries that don’t allow for any rights for the LGBTQ+ community, Taiwan is paving the way for other conservative Asian countries and possibly the rest of the world that has yet to follow.