Love is love? Is love enough to make a law change? In very few cases Yes, in most cases No. At least it’s true in the context of marriage equality. Last count, there’re 28 nations in the world recognise same sex marriage. The latest one that has joined the ranks is Taiwan. Born and bred there, I cannot be more proud.
When a small player like Taiwan is seen on the news headlines, most of time it’s for the wrong reason. Oh No, not another round of diplomatic setback. The country’s lack of support from the international community is well known. But in the last two weeks. On 17 May 2019, when Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalise same sex marriage, there was an outpouring of praises following it. This milestone sent shock waves across the world and make people take notice. To be politically correct or politically incorrect depending on where you stand, some news sites referenced Taiwan’s sovereignty very carefully. After all, who dares to upset Chinese communist party and their One China Principle? The first “place” in Asia to legalise same sex marriage is probably what has been written in the news. Don’t get me started or I’ll sound too political here. Anyway, moving forward, whether people agree or disagree, like it or not, the law has been passed. Yes, it’s done but doesn’t it mean it’s over?
The road to clear the final hurdle has been long and hard. Mr Chi Chia-Wei, unknown to the west, is a first openly gay man and a veteran gay rights activist in Taiwan. He’s now a 60-year-old man. Last time I saw him on TV, I was struck by how skinny he looked and how much grey hair he got. Stress must’ve done something to him. Back in 1986, some 33 years ago, he was the first person to step up to advocate gay rights. It was no doubt a brave thing to do after all people in the 80’s were far more conservative than people today.
When Chi Chia-Wei went to apply for a marriage certificate at the local council, he was refused by the authorities on the grounds that his partner wasn’t a she. From there, he wouldn’t have thought that it’d become decades of fight for marriage equality. In mid 2017, at last, there was a glimpse of hope. The matter was taken to the Taiwan’s constitutional court for interpretation. On the day when he was in the court room facing the constitutional judge, he looked frail. I can’t image what was going through his mind. Most believed it was the last resort and a do or die situation. Outside the court room, it was just as dramatic as the inside. Both sides of supporters for and against marriage equality had been waiting for this moment. When the verdict was read out, we heard a loud cheer from one side of the groups. Yes, the judge was in favour of marriage equality. It said to deny a same sex couple the right to marry is unconstitutional. Taiwan’s lawmakers must in two years make it a law or it’ll automatically become one on 24 May 2019.
The case was won for the LGBT community, but it was short-lived. Only a year later, the LGBT campaigners faced another uphill battle. They suffered a major blow from the referendum results in 2018. An overwhelming number of Taiwanese voters didn’t wish to see the marriage law changed. What it left with for the government was to find a middle ground between the judge’s verdict and the referendum outcome. But with the opposition groups gaining the upper hand from the No votes, there was a call/demand for the word “marriage” to be removed from the context and replacing it with something less significant to formalise their “partnership”, separate from the existing marriage law.
Following almost 2 years of inaction by the government, with the deadline fast approaching, the bill was finally drafted and sent to the Legislative Yuan for review. The word “marriage” was retained under the bill. It also gave same sex married couples similar rights as heterosexual married couples. The move angered the opposition groups calling it a disrespect for the referendum results.
Against the odds, the bill was passed without amendments. The anti same sex marriage sentiment from the opposition groups went from bad to worse. This time they vowed to overturn the law, punish those legislative members who voted yes on the bill, sack the constitutional judge and bring down the government in the next presidential election in 2020. Well, what can I say? It just got uglier every time I looked at it. Good luck to them.
The pen that was used by President Tsai Ing-Wen to sign marriage equality into law was given to Mr Chi Chia Wei as a gift for his contributions to the gay rights movement in Taiwan. It was a symbolic gesture and a good closure to a long battle lasted for decades and caused so much pain to the LGBT community. Now it’s time for healing. When a battle is over, there’re always winners and losers. When love wins, who’s going to lose? Calling on fears, hate, and prejudice out there, get your white flag ready! Get your loser’s speech prepared. Because you’re losing ground…