This week, 19 million eligible voters in Taiwan will decide on the fate of gay marriage in the country.
Last May, the Taiwanese Constitutional Court ruled that gay and lesbian couples have the right to legally marry, though bills to legalize gay marriage are still pending in Parliament. This Saturday, November 24 however, will determine if Taiwan will write gay marriage into the Civil Code or create a separate law that regulates gay and lesbian couples' rights. The referendum, which will run alongside local elections, will show whether Taiwan, which is known as a relatively gay-friendly country, has full marriage equality.
The referendum was proposed by an anti gay-marriage group called the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation. Tseng Hsien Ying, a spokesperson for the coalition, told VICE that it isn't against same-sex marriage — Taiwan just isn't ready for the change.
"We can’t change the definition of marriage and overturn our traditional family values," Tseng told VICE. "Taiwan is not yet ready for this big change. We will protect [same-sex couples'] rights by a special law so that we won’t redefine our law on marriage."
But the idea of separating gay marriages and heterosexual marriages is exactly the problem, according to LGBTQ rights groups, who are worried that the referendum might limit their freedom to marry and the progress of human rights in Taiwan in general.
Tsou Tzung Han, the first gay celebrity to openly marry his partner in 2016, told VICE that their wedding ceremony is not legally binding, and that it's led to problems that heterosexual couples don't face. If gay marriage is allowed only under a special law, couples will have fewer legal protection, he said.
“The property my husband and I bought together cannot be registered under our names,” Tsou said. “Why separate us from the Civil Code if we are Taiwan citizens? This is indeed discrimination.”
Leading up to the votes, Taiwan is seeing a culture war played out online and offline. Both pro and anti gay marriage groups are drumming up their side of the argument on social media, TV and radio commercials, and even on posters on city buses. Both sides have organized rallies as well. Last month, the yearly gay pride parade in Taipei drew almost 140,000 people.
Experts are still unsure which way voters will swing on the referendum. A poll released by the political party New Power Party this month shows that 26.7 percentage of respondents agreed to limit marriage only to heterosexual couples, while only 13.1 percentage agreed to put same-sex marriage in the Civil Code. For the referendum to pass, 25 percent of voters need to vote "yes" this Saturday.
“It would be hard for both sides,” Jennifer Lu, chief coordinator of the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, told VICE.
Meanwhile, the rest of the countries in the region are watching. If Taiwan votes yes, it would be the first country in the region to embrace marriage equality. Taiwan could inspire other countries in Asia to legalize marriage among same-sex couples, or the opposite.
Tsou is optimistic. He hopes that by next May, gay marriage is legal so he could wed his husband all over again, for real this time.
“Everyone should be treated equally,” he said.