Taiwan could become first Asian country with marriage equality

By Max Bearak

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing Wen said: "Every person should be able to look for love freely and freely seek their own happiness". Photo / AP
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing Wen said: "Every person should be able to look for love freely and freely seek their own happiness". Photo / AP

More than 4 billion people live in Asia. But not one of them lives in a country where people can get married regardless of their sexual orientation.

LGBT rights supporters have long looked to liberal Taiwan to change that, and numerous recent developments signal that the country may step up.

At the weekend, more than 80,000 people took to the streets of Taiwan's capital, Taipei, as part of the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride parade, according to numbers provided by organisers. Attendees described the event as charged with an unprecedented atmosphere of hope.

In October, MPs from Taiwan's new ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, introduced a bill that would eliminate gender from the national constitution's definition of marriage, opening it to any two people. Taiwan's new President, Tsai Ing Wen, has vocally supported marriage equality in the past, and recent polls show that almost three-quarters of the Taiwanese people favour it.

The turning point, however, may have come by way of tragedy. On October 16, a French professor who had lived in Taiwan for decades fell 10 storeys to his death in what his friends said was probably a suicide. They said Jacques Picoux, who was 67, had fallen into a deep depression after cancer took the life of his partner of many years. Because of Taiwan's current laws, Picoux was not able to take part in crucial medical decisions during his partner's final moments and afterwards could not legally claim the property the two had shared.

Picoux's death seems to have spurred DPP MPs to prioritise the new bill on marriage equality. According to political observers, the bill is expected to pass.

"We actually can see that there are about 66 legislators who will probably vote yes on marriage equality," Pride Watch activist Cindy Su told the Guardian. "That's a majority of 58.4 per cent, the first time in Taiwanese history that we have more than half."

The DPP came to power after decades ruled by the Kuomintang, which had opposed marriage-equality legislation. The DPP platform is driven by a desire for Taiwan to become more autonomous from China, which claims the island as its own. But the party also represents a younger, more liberal Taiwanese voter. Of marriage equality, party leader and now-President Tsai said: "Every person should be able to look for love freely and freely seek their own happiness".

If Taiwan legalises same-sex marriage, it will send a strong message across the region. Homosexuality is taboo in many East Asian countries, and it remains illegal in Malaysia, as well as across much of South Asia.

Yu Mei Nu, who drafted the legislation for the DPP, said the bill could become law by early next year. On the day after the publication of Yu's draft, Picoux's and his partner's ashes were scattered into the sea.

- Washington Post

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 07 Dec 2016 11:14:35 Processing Time: 426ms