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In Historic Move, Taiwan Will Become First Asian Nation to Legalize Gay Marriage

Marriage equality doesn't exist in most of Asia, but LGBTQ activists hope that Taiwan's landmark court ruling will inspire change.

by Sirin Kale
May 24 2017, 1:30pm

In a historic case with wider implications for the whole of Asia, Taiwan's constitutional court has ruled in support of gay marriage. When the ruling is implemented, Taiwan will become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex unions—although the hope is that many other countries will soon follow suit.

The fight for marriage equality in Taiwan has been long and fraught, spanning over 30 years. Activists including Chi Chia-wei—the legendary Taiwanese LGBTQ campaigner who was the lead petitioner in the case—congregated outside the court in Taipei yesterday to await their verdict. When it came, it was worth the decades-long wait: The court determined that Taiwan's current Civil Code was unconstitutional.

In a press release accompanying the verdict, the court explained that prohibiting same-sex unions failed Taiwan's obligation to ensure the freedom of marriage and the people's right to equality—set out in articles 22 and seven respectively of the constitution. Out of the court's 14 judges, one abstained and another two dissented.

It's important to emphasize that gay marriage will not become legal overnight: The court has given the Taiwanese government two years to implement their judgment. (If the government fails to change the law, the court has stated that same-sex couples could still register and marry anyway.)

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For Chi—who came out in 1986, when admitting you were gay was unthinkable in Taiwanese society—the ruling marks the tipping point after decades of struggle. Chi has challenged the Taiwanese authorities to do more for their LGBTQ population since the 1980s, and for him and his fellow activists, it's been a long road to marriage equality. Speaking to Quartz earlier this year, ahead of the verdict, he was in buoyant spirits. "The [constitutional] court doesn't want me to appear," he said with a smile. "Once I show up, they're in for a real headache."


Watch: Unmarried at 27: Meet China's 'Leftover Women'


Increasingly well-mobilized conservative religious groups have opposed Chi and other LGBTQ activists. Self-described American "pro-family" activists Mass Resistance have had a presence in the island state since at least December 2016. In a blog post published on their website, Mass Resistance described Taiwan's push for marriage equality as "the road to hell."

Sara Hall of LGBT group Stonewall told Broadly: "We're thrilled that Taiwan has said 'I do' by legalizing same-sex marriage. This will allow same-sex couples across the country to show their love and commitment. There's still a long way to go until lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are accepted without exception globally, with communities still facing persecution. However, we hope that today is a sign of more good things to come."

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Activists hope Taiwan's ruling will galvanize other activists in Asian nations. Equal marriage is currently illegal across Asia, and countries such as Indonesia have made concerted crackdowns on their LGBT populations in recent months. Earlier this week, Jakarta police arrested 141 men caught attending what authorities described as a "gay party." Meanwhile, neighboring China—which claims sovereignty over Taiwan—does not recognize same-sex relationships.

While a victory for Taiwan's LGBTQ population, the real challenge is—can they export their successes to other nations across the region? Some analysts believe so. "Taiwan's move will propel LGBT movements across Asia," Xin Ying of the Beijing LGBT Center told the Financial Times. And for now, Taiwan may become an unlikely wedding hotspot for queer couples across the region to travel to and exercise their right to marry the person they love—safely, legally, and without fear of recrimination.