image

Taiwan

Taiwan’s top court rules in favour of gay marriage in landmark case

Panel finds current law barring same-sex unions is a violation of the island’s constitution

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 1:57pm

Taiwan’s top court, the Council of Grand Justices, ruled in favour of gay marriage on Wednesday, paving the way for the island to become the first place in Asia to legalise gay unions.

The ruling by a panel of 14 grand justices in Taipei said the current law that barred same-sex marriage was a violation of the constitution, as everybody – regardless of gender – should enjoy the same marriage rights.

Watch: Taiwan rules in favour of gay marriage

Lu Tai-lang, secretary general of the Council of Grand Justices, said authorities must revise the civil code within two years to bring about the legislative change. “Even if the authorities fail to revise the law at the end of the two-year period, gay couples can always register with local household offices to make their marriage legal and they will enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples do,” Lu said.

The court ruling said disallowing same-sex marriage to safeguard the social order had “no rational basis” and was incompatible with the spirit of equality.

More than 20,000 people took part in a rally held by local gay rights groups near the island’s legislature building in support of marriage equality

A statement issued by the Marriage Equality Grand Platform after the court ruling said, “This is a historic moment ... and the ruling will make Taiwan the Asia’s model of [same-sex unions].”

But staunch opponents of same-sex union called the ruling a “shame” to the judiciary and demand a referendum over the issues.

They called for the Control Yuan, the island’s top government watchdog, to investigate whether the Council of Grand Justices had neglected its duty in making the ruling.

Why Taiwan is likely to set a first in Asia by legalising same-sex marriages

“A marriage between one man and one woman has long been our tradition and changing it would not only create a serious moral problem but would also encourage social degeneration. Also, the review of the so-called marriage equality bill has yet to go through the third and final reading,” said Yu Hsin-yi, secretary general of the Greater Taipei Stability Power Alliance, which opposes gay marriage.

In making the ruling, the court had violated the rights of the legislature, Yu said, adding that its “unilateral decision to interpret whether the case is unconstitutional is not only unfair and unreasonable but will also deepen divisions in society”.

The court proceeding was launched by veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei, 59, two years ago. He asked if the current law violated the constitution after his attempt to register a marriage to another man was rejected by a Taipei household registration office in 2013 and subsequent appeals failed.

Taipei city’s Department of Civil Affairs later filed a similar request for a constitutional interpretation of the issue after receiving a number of same-sex marriage requests after Chi’s case, despite strong opposition from conservative groups.

Gay groups in Hong Kong hailed the ruling in Taiwan as an example for the city.

“It is a landmark case for the whole of Asia, a significant guide,” Brian Leung, chief operating officer of the Big Love Alliance, said.

Gay, mums to twins and barred from marrying ... one couple’s story in Taiwan’s same-sex marriage debate

But Roger Wong Wai-ming, the head of the Hong Kong group Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group, said: “It has set a very bad precedent.”

Wong said he would continue to liaise with fellow opponents of gay rights in Taiwan and fight for changes over the next two years, before the relevant legislation was expected to be enacted there.

Li Yinhe, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that Taiwan’s ruling would have an impact on the Chinese mainland.

She said that when Western countries passed laws to allow same-sex marriage in the past, mainland authorities had dismissed the legislation by pointing to the different culture and traditions of China.

“Now Taiwan, which shares the same language and ancestors as the mainland, has approved it and it will really prick the mainland public and authorities to have some serious thought,” Li said.

Has the time come for Hong Kong to legalise same-sex marriage?

The debate over legalising same-sex marriage has been running for more than 14 years in Taiwan, since the government first proposed it in 2003.

The campaign has gathered momentum since the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, pledged her support for marriage equality during the 2016 presidential race.

Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung and Alice Yan