Taiwan on Friday passed historic legislation confirming a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry, making the democratic island the first jurisdiction in the region to do so.
“On May 17th, 2019 in #Taiwan, #LoveWon,” President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted after the same-sex marriage bill passed in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.
“We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country,” Tsai wrote, with a rainbow flag emoticon.
Tsai, who had campaigned on a marriage equality platform in 2016, before taking the presidency in a landslide victory for her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), later told reporters: “Today is a proud day for Taiwan. It is the day Taiwan let the world see the goodness and value of this land.”
From May 24, two people of the same gender will be able to register a marriage in Taiwan, as long as they are over 18 and have two witnesses to their signatures.
The news was greeted with huge cheers by some 40,000 supporters of marriage equality, who had gathered in the rain-soaked streets outside the legislature ahead of the vote, chanting slogans and waving rainbow flags.
“Oh, wow, I feel so emotional!” said one protester after the announcement. “I have waited so long for this moment.”
Others chanted: “Marriage equality: first in Asia!”
The move was also publicly supported by key cultural figures.
Top movie director Tsai Ming-liang appeared on the podium, shouting to supporters: “Taiwan is awesome,” while tech tycoon and Asus co-founder T.H. Tung appeared in the crowd, commenting: “Taiwan is a fantastic place.”
However, Tsai also called for an end to hostility between the pro- and anti- camps.
“Starting today, we show more empathy, and love for those around us,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“I want to offer my congratulations to same-sex couple friends, who have won society’s blessing,” she said.
To those who opposed the change, which was mandated in a ruling by the island’s highest court two years ago, she wrote: “Thank you for understanding.”
The island’s supreme court ruled on May 24, 2017, that the physical and psychological need for permanent unions is “equally essential to homosexuals and heterosexuals, given the importance of the freedom of marriage to the sound development of personality and safeguarding of human dignity.”
It said foot-dragging over the issue had affected people’s fundamental rights in recent years.
The island’s government was given two years to implement the ruling, but the ruling had already legitimize same-sex marriages by default, it said.
Step forward for rights
Premier Su Tseng-chang posted a photo of himself and his wife Chan Hsiu-ling to his Instagram account, writing in the caption: “Congratulations, now everyone can get married. Marriage, however, is no joke! #Advice from a man who has been married 45 years.”
Tseng Chien-yuan, an associate professor of public administration at Taiwan’s Chung Hua University, said the move was a great step forward for human rights on the island, which had achieved something that many Western liberal democracies still struggle with.
“Taiwanese society respects the value of diversity, and different values, as long as they don’t impinge upon the rights of others,” Tseng said. “They should all be respected and protected.”
“In a lot of countries, LGBTIQ+ people still face huge discrimination, and yet Taiwan has made a breakthrough in that regard,” he said. “It was not an easy matter to get marriage equality legislation through in a country … that espouses traditional Chinese culture.”
Rights groups welcomed the new law.
“What a tremendous victory for #LGBT rights!” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“#Taiwan’s action today should sound a clarion call, kicking off a larger movement across #Asia to ensure equality for LGBT people and pro-active protection of their rights by governments throughout the region. No more excuses!” Robertson tweeted.
Reported by Hwang Chun-mei and Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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