KATE BARKLEY WRITES—Taiwan may become the first Asian country to embrace the rainbow, as members of its high court began hearing arguments this week on whether same-sex marriage should be made legal.
If it happens, the country’s same-sex couples will have one man largely to thank, longtime gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei.
Same sex marriage is illegal in Taiwan, but Chi and his attorneys argue the ban is unconstitutional. In December they got a big win when a legislative committee passed an amendment to include same-sex marriage in the country’s civil code.
The pro argument is that Taiwan’s constitution is written in such a way that leaves room for interpretation on the issue. Article 22 states that all other freedoms and rights of the public that are not detrimental to social order or public welfare are guaranteed under the Constitution. Likewise, Article 7 declares that all citizens, irrespective of sex, religion, ethnic origin, class or party affiliation, are equal before the law.
Opponents say such marriages are deviant, and given Taiwan’s generally conservative, Confucian society would in fact be detrimental to order. Several groups, including the Baby’s Breath Layman Alliance (BBLA) and Rescue Taiwan Hope Alliance (RTHA) have led protests against the possibility. At these demonstrations they wear all white, as a symbol of their rejection of the “rainbow [of] terror”.
Along with opposition to marriage, some members decry educating gays and lesbians, and National Health Insurance coverage for foreigners with HIV/AIDS.
The long-standing tension between Taiwan and LGBT rights goes back decades, and activist Chi has been there for much of it. Thirty years ago he was arrested for petitioning the Taiwanese legislature to legalize same-sex marriage. He and his partner held a union ceremony in 1986, and he first sought constitutional review of the same-sex ban in 2000.
Taiwan could be apart of something historic this year, and with same-sex couples gaining greater recognition and rights around the globe it would be a bold and inspiring stance for Taiwan to lead Asia into a new era of civil rights. Ultimately, March 24th (the date the high court first took up the latest case) could be the beginning of Taiwan’s escape from a conservative past.