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Taiwan

Taiwan opponents of gay marriage call for referendum on issue

Moves comes after constitutional court rules in favour of same-sex unions, paving way for island to become first place in Asia to legalise gay marriage

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 2:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 2:07pm

Taiwanese opponents of gay marriage vowed on Thursday to press for a referendum on the issue after the island’s constitutional court ruled that current laws barring same-sex unions were a violation of the constitution.

The opposition comes as gay activists have also expressed concerns that legislation may be introduced that makes gay couples a “special case” rather than the law simply acknowledging their rights are the same as all others.

The controversies may complicate or undermine moves to make Taiwan the first place in Asia to legalise gay marriage, according to analysts.

The court said on Wednesday the civil code which excludes same-sex marriage was unconstitutional because everybody – regardless of gender – should enjoy the same marriage rights.

It also said barring gay marriage to safeguard “social order” had no rational basis and was incompatible with the spirit of equality.

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The decision has enraged anti-gay marriage groups, which have poured scorn on the court’s ruling, calling it the greatest shame in Taiwan’s judicial history.

Groups including the Protect the Family Alliance and the Coalition for the Happiness of the Next Generation joined forces on Thursday to try to take the issue to a referendum.

“We will start seeking endorsements for our referendum from today as we believe the so-called interpretation by the grand justices was not only biased, but also unfair given that it deprived the legislature the rights of legislation,” said Sammy Yu, convener of the Coalition for the Happiness of the Next Generation.

The referendum will ask the Taiwanese public if they agree that a marriage should be a union between a man and a woman, Yu said.

The groups also want another referendum vote asking the public if they agree that their children receive education about homosexuality while in primary school.

“I believe public opinion will win in the end, despite the unilateral decision made by the grand justices,” Yu said.

The court ruled that the authorities must revise the civil code within two years to bring about the legislative change.

However, Lu Tai-lang, secretary general of the constitutional court, said on Wednesday that even if the authorities fail to revise the law within two years, “gay couples can always register with local household offices to make their marriages legal and ... enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples”.

The ruling was seen as a victory for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights advocates, but some activists warned their fight was not yet over.

“Our battleground is now at the legislature as there is the possibility that legislators, facing pressure from their constituencies, might opt for legislation of a special law for same-sex couples instead of revising the civil code to make everybody equal,” said Jennifer Lu, an activist with the Taiwan LGBT Hotline Association.

Some campaigners consider a special law discriminatory as it will take gay couples out of the category of “normal couples” specified in the nation’s civil code.

“We will be treated like second class citizens if we are subject to the special law,” said Chi Chia-wei, a veteran gay rights activist, who filed the case with the top court requesting a constitutional ruling on same-sex marriage.

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Although the court said the authorities should revise the law to allow same-sex marriages, they did not say how such revisions should be made. This leaves the choice open for the legislature to decide.

The government on Wednesday merely called for the authorities to prepare for the legislation, without saying whether it should be done by revising the civic code or through instituting a special law.

“The legislature already passed the first reading of the revision of the civic code to include same-sex marriage and all we should do is go ahead and finish it instead of making things more complicated and controversial,” said Tuan Yi-kang, a legislator in the governing Democratic Progressive Party.

Taiwanese media said President Tsai Ing-wen’s government has left the choice open for the legislature on how to proceed because of the mounting pressure from anti-gay groups.