Today in Taipei, the Taiwanese version of the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for same-sex marriage from Chi Chia-Wei, a veteran gay rights activist in Taiwan, and the Taipei city authorities. The judges listened to their claims, and other oral arguments today, but there won’t be a decision for possibly another two months.
In the many news outlets there has been speculation that Taiwan may become the first East Asian country to grant same-sex marriage to its LGBT+ citizens. However there is still a long legislative and judicial road before this can happen. At the moment in Taiwan there are two possible strategies for passing same-sex marriage. Either it is passed in the legislature (where equal marriage or some sort of civil partnership is possible), or through the judiciary where the court could rule that the Taiwanese constitution permits some form of same-sex marriage (again either equal marriage or some sort of civil partnership), and then recommends that the legislature pass something to that effect.
Outside of Taiwan there has been optimism that same-sex marriage will be passed, however there are may obstacles that could delay this from happening. Within Taiwan the feeling is that if something does not get passed in the next few months then gay people in Taiwan will have to wait a few more years until the political climate is once again favourable. If the court rules that the constitution does not grant same-sex marriage, then that could be a massive set back. However, if they recommend that the laws be changed to allow same-sex marriage then that will take pressure off the legislature because they will say “hey we’re doing this because the court told us to.” Rather than having to justify it themselves. The president of Taiwan came out in favour of same-sex marriage a while ago, but then seemed to back track or suggest that a form of civil partnership could also be considered.
There is a feeling that legislatures do not want to risk passing same-sex marriage because it might hurt their reelection chances. They should also consider if not passing it will hurt their chances as well. After all, this is a party that is supposed to be progressive, progressive voters have more erratic voter turn out. If they think their local representative is not being progressive enough, there is a risk that they won’t vote for them (or anyone else). Whereas with conservative voters, the tendency is to vote more reliably. A similar thing happened in the USA with a group of democrats, named the “Blue Dog Democrats.” They were a group of democrats in marginal seats who refused to vote for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). In 2008 they had 54 members, then after refusing to vote for the ACA, in the 2010 elections that number was reduced to 26. Admittedly this was an election where the Republicans had a historic victory. But the warning is still there. If you’re voted in on a progressive platform, do not turn conservative because you will not win the conservatives and you will lose the progressives.
I hope that Taiwan does pass equal marriage, however some form of civil partnership may be more likely. If this is the case then there will be a spectrum of rights that could come into play, including taxation, adoption rights, inheritance and hospital visits. When civil partnerships were passed in the UK same-sex couples had almost identical rights to opposite-sex married couples. However in the US and France it was different. In the US same-sex couples were not granted federal protections, and in France same-sex couples still did not have adoption rights. So there are different versions of civil partnership, and you can’t guarantee which one you will get. Hopefully Taiwan will become the first major country in Asia to grant same-sex couples equal marriage, but we don’t know when. It could be in the next few months, or it could be years from now. The sooner the better. The LGBT community of Taiwan is tired of waiting.