On 24th May 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court determined in J.Y. Interpretation No. 748 that it was unconstitutional for the current Civil Code to prohibit same-sex marriage. This was a milestone for the marriage equality movement in Taiwan, and a two-year countdown began. During this period, either the Civil Code had to be amended, or a new law enforced. On 21st February 2019, the government announced the bill Act for Implementation of J.Y. Interpretation No. 748, sending it to the Legislative Yuan for deliberation. Premier Su Tseng-Chang urged the legislators to pass the bill as soon as possible and remarked, “This might fall short of expectations but after all, we’ve taken an important first step in the right direction towards a brighter future.”
Indeed, there is still a long way to go but we have also come so far from the movement’s beginnings. Our journey might be said to have begun when DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) legislator Hsiao Bi-Khim drafted a same-sex marriage bill in 2006, or even earlier in 1986, when Chi Chia-Wei, a pioneer of the gay rights movement, demanded the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Or we can say it began even earlier when many LGBTQ+ people first expressed their desire for marriage equality. Here we take a look back at the ten-year journey of the fight for marriage equality in Taiwan, highlighting all the efforts that have gone into achieving change during this time and have made same-sex marriage a reality.
The Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) was established jointly by the Awakening Foundation, Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, and several LGBTQ+ rights organisations.
TAPCPR’s first public symposium was held, in which the organisation declared that its approach would be to advocate for legislation of both same-sex marriage and civil partnership at the same time.
In August, Nelson Chen and Kao Chih-Wei were rejected in their application to marry by Zhongshan District Household Registration Office. On 21st October, Chan and Kao filed an appeal against the decision, but the Administrative Appeals Commission of Taipei City stuck to their guns.
Master Shih Chao-Hwei hosted Taiwan’s first Buddhist same-sex wedding ceremony for two Buddhist women at the Hongshi Academy in Guanyin Township, Taoyuan County on 11th August.
The Taiwan LGBT Pride was held on 27th October, under the theme “Marriage Revolution – Equal Marriage Rights, Diversity in Partnerships”. Protesters condemned the existing marriage system for its oppression of same-sex couples, and fight for equal rights of marriage.
On 18th December, Legislator Yu Mei-Nu proposed amendments to the Civil Code to legalise same-sex marriage. The first reading was completed and sent to the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee for further deliberation.
The draft bill of Diversified Family Formation was proposed by TAPCPR and sent to the Legislative Yuan on 8th October.
On 25th October, the Legislative Yuan passed the first reading of the first part of the bill focusing on the amendments to the Family and Succession sections in the Civil Code to legalise same-sex marriage. It was then referred to the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee for deliberation.
Legislator Cheng Li-Chiun held a public hearing on the bill on 19th November.
On 5th October, the Marriage Equality Revolutionary Front, which was initiated by over 90 civil organisations, organised a large-scale demonstration to urge the Legislative Yuan to respond to the amendment efficiently, directly and responsibly.
On 22nd December, the draft bill for Same-sex Marriage was deliberated by the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee of Legislative Yuan for the very first time in history.
On 23rd March, a lesbian couple appealed to the Taipei City Government that a group wedding ceremony organised by the city hall should not exclude same-sex couples. As a result, both Taipei and Taoyuan City Governments announced that same-sex couples would be able to join group weddings later that year.
On 20th May, local household registration offices in Kaohsiung City Government opened its marriage relationship registration to same-sex couples, making Kaohsiung the first city to do so. Taipei City followed on 17th June and Taichung City on 1st October. Since then six municipalities, as well as most local counties and cities, have allowed same-sex couples to register the partnership relationship into local household systems.
A group of attorneys from TAPCPR, representing Chi Chia-Wei, officially filed the request for constitutional interpretation claiming the restriction on same-sex marriage violates the fundamental constitutional rights of citizens. In the same period, both the Taipei Supreme Administrative Court and the Taipei City Government also requested the constitutional interpretation regarding the issue of same-sex marriage.
On 16th October Jacques Picoux, a retired professor at National Taiwan University, was found dead after falling from the tenth floor of his Taipei apartment block. His suicide came a year after his partner of 35 years, Tseng, died of cancer. Picoux’s close friends believed that he had suffered severe depression due to the lack of legal status for their relationship, which denied him the right to participate in crucial medical decisions in Tseng’s final moments, and ensured he had no rights to claim over the property they had shared.
On 8th November, the draft amendments to the Civil Code that would legalise same-sex marriage passed the first reading and were referred to the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee for deliberation.
On 17th November, during the deliberation meeting, intense conflicts were triggered between legislators and supporters of both parties. Therefore the committee decided to hold public hearings before the review.
On 26th December, the committee passed draft amendments to the Civil Code, and then referred it to a party caucus for further negotiations before the bill was sent to the full general assembly.
The Constitutional Court consolidated both cases involving same-sex marriage submitted by Chi Chia-Wei and the Taipei City Government and held an oral hearing and debate on 24th March.
On 24th May, the Constitutional Court announced the J.Y. Interpretation No. 748, which declared that the prohibition of same-sex marriage in the current Civil Code was unconstitutional and gave the Legislative Yuan two years to amend it or enact laws to include same-sex relationship.
The Executive Yuan issued an administrative order to allow same-sex couples to register their partnership relationship with local household registration offices nationwide for administrative purpose in July.
On 30th August, the anti-gay civil group Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance submitted three referendum proposals including “The marriage defined in the Civil Code should be restricted to the union between one man and one woman”, “The Ministry of Education should not implement the Enforcement Rules of the Gender Equality Education Act in elementary and middle schools” and “The protection of the rights of same-sex couples should be conducted in ways other than changing of the Civil Code”.
On 4th September, the marriage equality supporting group Vote4LGBT proposed two referendum proposals for same-sex marriage in response to the anti-gay campaigners’ proposals. “The rights of same-sex couples should be defined in the Civil Code”, and “The implementation of the Gender Equality Education Act should apply to all levels of schools.”
On 27th October, the annual Taiwan LGBT Pride parade took place under the theme “Tell Your Story, Vote for Equality”, emphasising gender equality education and promoting the referendum, and which recorded more than 130,000 participants.
Nationwide municipal elections alongside the referendum took place on 24th November. The three anti-gay rights referendum proposals campaigned for by Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance were passed, which prohibited recognising same-sex marriages under the Civil Code. However, the government was still responsible for providing legal protection to the union of same-sex couples according to the ruling of the Constitutional Court.
On 21st February, the Executive Yuan passed the draft bill of Act for Implementation of J.Y. Interpretation No. 748 (commonly known as Same-sex Marriage Bill) which would grant same-sex couples the ability to register their marriages, and create a permanent union of an intimate and exclusive nature for the committed purpose of managing their lives together.
The Same-sex Marriage Bill was sent to the Legislative Yuan for deliberation and approved on 17th May. It was then signed by President Tsai Ing-wen on 22nd May and took effect on 24th May – that day, more than 500 couples registered their marriages across the nation.
On 24th May, the anniversary of the country legalising same-sex marriage, the official figure provided by the Ministry of the Interior indicated that more than 4,000 couples had registered their marriages.
Original text by 新活水 Fountain Magazine Newsroom Translated by Heather Mowbray Edited by Queer East Team Source: TAPCPR, Marriage Equality Coalition, The Judicial Yuan of Taiwan, The Executive Yuan of Taiwan
* The Traditional Chinese article was originally published in新活水 Fountain MagazineIssue 11. Love is Equal in May 2019