Taiwan’s legislature has voted to legalise same-sex marriage, a first in Asia and a boost for LGBT rights activists who had championed the cause for two decades.
Legislators pressured by LGBT groups approved most of a government-sponsored bill that recognises same-sex marriage and gives couples many of the tax, insurance and child custody benefits available to male-female married couples.
That makes Taiwan the first place in Asia with a comprehensive law both allowing and laying out the terms of same-sex marriage.
President Tsai Ing-wen, a supporter of the law, tweeted: “On May 17th, 2019 in Taiwan, LoveWon. We took a big step toward true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”
Thousands of people, including same-sex couples, demonstrated in the rainy streets outside parliament before the vote. Many carried rainbow-coloured placards reading “The vote cannot fail”.
About 50 opponents sat under a tent outside parliament and gave speeches favouring marriage between only men and women.
Taiwan’s Constitutional Court in May 2017 said the constitution allows same-sex marriage and gave parliament two years to adjust laws accordingly.
The court order mobilised LGBT advocacy groups pushing for fair treatment, as well as opponents among church groups and advocates of traditional Chinese family values that stress the importance of marriage and producing offspring.
Religion, conservative values and political systems that discourage LGBT activism have slowed momentum towards same-sex marriage in many Asian countries, from Japan through much of south-east Asia, although Thailand is exploring the legalisation of same-sex civil partnerships.
“This will help spark a debate in Thailand, and hopefully will help Thailand move faster on our own partnership bill,” said Wattana Keiangpa of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said Taiwan’s action 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!”
Taiwan’s acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships began in the 1990s when leaders in today’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society.
Although claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan is a self-governing democracy with a vibrant civil society dedicated to promoting rights for sexual and ethnic minorities, women, the handicapped and others.
Mainland China, ruled by the authoritarian Communist Party, remains much more conservative and officials have repeatedly discouraged even the discussion of legalising same-sex marriage.