In Landmark Ruling For Asia, Taiwan's Top Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriages

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Conservative activists protest Taiwan court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriages, May 24, 2017.
Conservative activists protest Taiwan court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriages, May 24, 2017.

Supporters of gay rights celebrated in Taiwan on Wednesday after the island's highest court made a constitutional ruling in favor of same-sex marriages, the first jurisdiction in Asia to legalize gay marriage.

Braving torrential rain, the supporters celebrated with multi-colored rainbow displays made from their cell phone flashlights after the court found in their favor.

The court found on Wednesday that a clause in Taiwan's Civil Code specifying that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman "violates" the constitution's guarantees of freedom of marriage and equality.

"The current provisions of the marriage chapter do not allow two persons of the same sex to create a permanent union of an intimate and exclusive nature for the committed purpose of managing a life together. This is obviously a gross legislative flaw," the court said in a statement.

Two judges dissented out of a total panel of 14, but the majority of 10 was easily achieved.

According to the judgment, 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 now has two years to implement the ruling by the constitutional court, but the ruling already legitimizes same-sex marriages by default, it said.

'Everyone wins'

Supporters waved rainbow flags, cheered, and hugged each other as the ruling was made public.

Leaders of the campaign group Marriage Equality, which has led a surge in public opinion in favor of gay marriage ahead of the ruling, chanted the slogans "Marriage equality! Everyone wins!"

"I was so excited when I heard the ruling. My heart was all a-flutter like a bird," leading campaigner Chi Chia-wei, 59, told reporters.

"But that said, we still have to wait two years before we can get married: I hope the Legislative Yuan will prioritize the bill instead of dragging it on for another two years."

However, conservative groups also staged rallies against any change in the law, with angry anti-gay marriage protesters beating drums outside judicial headquarters, while shouting "Unfair justice!" and "Sinners!"

The Taipei city government has been rejecting marriage applications by same-sex couples until now, and had petitioned the constitutional court to clarify the law.

Across the Taiwan Strait in mainland China, where activists have tried and failed for several years to have same-sex unions recognized by the state, sexologist Li Yinhe welcomed the news.

"Taiwan and mainland China have the same roots and culture," Li told Agence France-Presse. "It suggests that Chinese society could also accept the idea of gay marriage," she said, but added there was "a very long way" to go.

Binding ruling

President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed that the ruling would be binding on her administration, and called on Taiwan's 23 million residents to "understand, tolerate, and respect people with different opinions."

Tsai's secretary-general Joseph Wu called on the island's officials to study the ruling carefully and collect opinions from everyone in society.

"Then they should present detailed draft legislation for debate with the Legislative Yuan," Wu said. "Parliament should then complete its three readings within the mandated time."

Lu Tai-lang, secretary-general of Taiwan's judiciary, agreed, saying it is now up to Taiwan's democratically elected parliament to proceed.

"It is now for the legislature  to act on whatever laws are now needed to ensure marriage equality," Lu told reporters.

"If they take longer than the specified period [of two years], then two persons of the same sex will be able to register their permanent unions by acting according to the existing laws on marriage, and receive a marriage certificate."

And Marriage Equality convenor Lu Hsin-chieh said the campaign isn't over yet.

"This is definitely not the end of the campaign," Lu told journalists. "But it is a very important day for marriage equality in Taiwan, because we have received state recognition at the highest level that we shouldn't be left out in the cold by the law."

"This is an inviolable right ... [but] of course we would rather not wait two years. We would rather see this thing pushed through in two weeks," Lu said.

Swift action urged

Amnesty International welcomed the ruling in a statement, and urged Taiwan lawmakers to act quickly.

"The judges have today said yes to marriage equality. This is a huge step forward for LGBT rights in Taiwan and will resonate across Asia," the group's East Asia campaigns director Lisa Tassi said.

"Lawmakers must act swiftly to ensure Taiwan becomes the first in Asia to make genuine marriage equality a reality," Tassi said. "As today’s ruling makes clear, whoever you love, everyone is entitled to the same human rights and equal protection under the law."

The group said a draft bill on same-sex marriage is currently being considered by Taiwan’s legislature, and urged lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage in Taiwan, on the same basis and with the same rights as marriage between heterosexual couples.

Reported by Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kwang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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