The Cable

Taiwan’s High Court Rules in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage

If parliament codifies it in the next two years, Taiwan will be a trailblazer in Asia.

Same-sex activists hug outside the parliament in Taipei on May 24, 2017 as they celebrate the landmark decision paving the way for the island to become the first place in Asia to legalise gay marriage.
Crowds of pro-gay marriage supporters in Taiwan on May 24 cheered, hugged and wept as a top court ruled in favour of same-sex unions. / AFP PHOTO / SAM YEH        (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)
Same-sex activists hug outside the parliament in Taipei on May 24, 2017 as they celebrate the landmark decision paving the way for the island to become the first place in Asia to legalise gay marriage. Crowds of pro-gay marriage supporters in Taiwan on May 24 cheered, hugged and wept as a top court ruled in favour of same-sex unions. / AFP PHOTO / SAM YEH (Photo credit should read SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images)

Taiwan just got a lot closer to becoming the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, after a landmark court ruling declared it unconstitutional to keep people of the same sex from getting married.

Videos on social media showed people in the streets celebrating the news, a culmination of decades of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and queer (LGBTQ) activism in Taiwan.

“Disallowing two persons of the same sex to marry, for the sake of safeguarding basic ethical orders” has no “rational basis,” the court wrote Wednesday, adding that “sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic that is resistant to change.” 

The court, formally known as the Council of Grand Justices, has given Taiwan’s parliament two years to either amend its current law or pass new legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. But many are worried conservative and religious groups in the region might continue to stall such an effort.

While Taiwan is at the forefront of same-sex rights in Asia — it has held an annual gay pride parade since 2003 — some religious conservatives believe Taiwan’s fourteen high court justices should not affect such an extreme shift in the country’s policies.

“The majority of the population does not know what’s happening,” Robin Chen, a spokesman for the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation — which links support for same-sex marriage to an uptick in HIV infections — told the Guardian. “We need to discuss things on different levels because family is the foundation of society.” 

Last year, when a bill to legalize same-sex marriage was presented in parliament, an estimated 20,000 conservatives came to protest in Taipei.  

However, since Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party came to power last year, it has done much to bolster LGBTQ rights. President Tsai Ing-wen openly supported it on the campaign trail, though she has since declined to put her full weight behind the issue. Nevertheless, the office of the president reinforced the court’s ruling in a statement, urging government agencies to draft new legislation “as quickly as possible.”

The ruling has also instilled hope in activists abroad.

“The decision by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court is a huge victory in ensuring the right of loving and committed same-sex couples to marry,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “Coming at a time when LGBTQ people around the globe are being targeted and harassed just because of who they are, this victory reinvigorates our crucially important work to advance equality.”

If parliament fails to pass a bill in two years, the court says, “two persons of the same sex who intend to create the said permanent union shall be allowed to have their marriage registration effectuated … by submitting a written document signed by two or more witnesses.”

The ruling came in response to two separate petitions: one from Chi Chia-wei, a long-time LGBTQ activist in Taiwan, and another from the capital city of Taipei, which was sued after it refused to grant marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

Photo credit: SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

Ruby Mellen is a fellow at Foreign Policy with a background in TV, print, and digital journalism. Before coming to FP, she covered the 2016 election as a news associate at CNN in Washington, D.C., working on State of the Union with Jake Tapper. Prior to that, she was a politics fellow at the Huffington Post. She was born in New York and is a dual citizen of Belgium and the United States. @RubyMellen

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