Taiwan legislature holding up rights legislation for homosexuals

Despite hosting Asia's largest gay-pride parade last month, island has been slow to end discrimination against homosexuals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 4:09am

More than 65,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people - some wearing very little and some in full Qing dynasty court costume - took to the streets of Taipei for a day of rainbow-coloured revelry late last month, making the most of Asia's largest gay-pride parade.

One muscular male in a leather body harness whipped the bare buttocks of another man shouting "gender equality and same-sex marriage", while a group of men in skimpy swimming trunks held banners reading "No more discrimination".

But the October 27 parade was more than an annual gay gala. It was also cause to ponder why Taiwan's LGBTs, despite their apparent freedom, are still deprived of basic rights.

Supported by the Taipei city government and held every year since 2003, the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade has seen the number of participants grow each year; fewer than 1,000 took part in the first parade.

Most participants in the first few parades wore masks to hide their identities but participants nowadays are no longer shy in front of the television cameras covering the parade.

It's a sign of the Taiwan pride movement's tremendous growth in the past decade - and the public's growing open-mindedness.

Passers-by - both old and young - looked on with interest as same-sex partners hugged and kissed each other, walked hand in hand and shouted that they wanted to get married.

Thomas Wong, a visitor from Hong Kong, was impressed. "Taiwan is a heaven for gay people and if I could I would live here for good," he said.

In addition to remarking on the quality of service offered by many of Taipei's gay venues, including pubs and trendy dance clubs, Wong also noted a refreshing openness towards gays and lesbians in society.

Two women "wed" in Taiwan in August, in a ceremony witnessed by a Buddhist nun that featured 300 Buddhists chanting sutras to seek blessings for the couple.

But although many same-sex couples have held high-profile wedding banquets in Taiwan since 1996, same-sex marriages have not yet been legalised.

Taiwan could have been the first Asian jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriage a decade ago had it completed passage of a bill designed to grant such couples the right to wed and adopt children.

Drafted in 2003 under then-Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian, the bill has made little headway in Taiwan's legislature.

Most politicians, from both sides of the political fence and including incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou, have said during election campaigns that they are willing to back such rights. But once they win office, they do little to push the bill forwards.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Taiwan, but the island also lacks a law protecting the rights of the LGBT community. There have been occasional reports of police brutality targeting gay people, and of employers discriminating against homosexual employees, including firing them or barring them from promotion.

After coming under pressure from gay rights activists and human rights groups, the Taiwanese authorities finally revised a law in 2010 to uphold sexual equality and prevent such discrimination, and reports of abuses have declined since then.

But that is not enough. As far as human rights are concerned, same-sex couples are deprived of many rights granted to heterosexual couples. A same-sex partner is unable to sign consent for an emergency medical operation and also has no automatic right of inheritance to their partner's property.

The organisers made equal rights to marriage and diversity in partnership the main theme of this year's parade, hoping that the message would be heard by the island's government and politicians.