Taiwan’s Marriage Equality Rejection Sets Back Push for LGBTQ Rights

7 million Taiwanese voters decide same-sex partners cannot legally marry

by Zachary Lee
25 November 2018, 2:46am

An LGBT supporter cries after losing the referendum in Taipei. Photo by Reuters

Despite being known for their relatively progressive attitude towards matters on LGBTQ-related issues, Taiwanese voters refused to say “yes” to same-sex marriage in a nationwide referendum on November 24.

One-third of Taiwan’s eligible voters — 7 million — decided that same-sex partners cannot legally marry, damaging their somewhat gay-friendly reputation in the region.

Three referendums proposed by the conservative groups all passed the 25% threshold, including to enact a special law for same-sex unions instead of amending the civil code. Meanwhile, the two other pro same-sex referendums garnered about 3 million votes, failing short of the required minimum.

Taiwan's highest court had already ruled in favor of gay marriage in May.

According to Taiwan’s law, the government must submit the approved proposal no later than three months.

LGBTQ groups were surprised at the result. “It is indeed a key setback for the LGBTQ rights movement,” Jay Lee, spokesperson for Kaohsiung Pride Parade, told VICE. He and his friends gather in a bar, preparing for the Gay Pride the following day.

“I knew that many Taiwanese are against homosexuality but I did not expect that nearly 40% of voters are against same-sex marriages,” he said. Lee added that he is disappointed in Taiwan's decision. “They don’t want to treat us as human beings.”

Chi Chia Wei, a pioneering Taiwanese gay rights campaigner for three decades, has a different view on the result. He said that the number might show a big loss for pro-gay marriage groups, but it achieved a “big win.”

From his experience, 1 in 50 people would support gay rights 30 years ago, but now, the ratio grew to 1 in 3. “I am glad that the percentage of anti-gay people has drastically decreased,” Chi said.

“For decades, we fought for the right to marry, not for gay privilege. But since marriage equality is blocked, we can ask for more benefits through a separate legal mechanism for gay couples,” Chi told VICE.

To anti-gay marriage groups however, they view the results as clear victory. Yu Hsin Yi, the spokesman for the Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation, told VICE that the results are a victory for all people who treasure family values. “We will protect gay groups’ rights without putting it into law,” Yu added.

Wen Lang Dung, a Taiwanese commentator, said the results show that Taiwan is not yet ready for same-sex marriage. ” The issue has deeply divided Taiwan,” he said. He added that many problems remain unsolved.

“For instance, it is not easy to regulate a special law to satisfy both sides,” he explained. According to the referendum act, same-sex couples might have legal protection but are not allowed to get married.

LGBTQ rights groups expressed their resolve to not give up despite the result of the referendum.

“We will be tough and keep fighting for equality,” said Lee. He emphasized that the 9th Kaohsiung Gay Pride Parade will still push through on November 25.

In Taiwan, the battle for the marriage equality continues.