Battle of hearts and minds has yet to be won on gay marriage
- As Hong Kong braces for its next legal battle, voters in Taiwan have rejected reform of the civil code to allow same-sex unions and the inclusion of such relationships in equality classes
The path towards equal rights for sexual minorities in conservative Chinese societies such as Hong Kong remains full of twists and turns. The latest are the results of referendums held with local elections in Taiwan. Voters rejected reform of the civil code to allow same-sex marriages and inclusion of gay relationships in equality classes. The result dimmed a new beacon for gay rights in Asia after the High Court ruled that a ban on same-sex unions was unconstitutional and gay couples would be allowed to register their marriages from May next year. The authorities now have two years to either revise the civil code defining marriage as between a man and a woman, or institute another law to regulate same-sex marriage. Whatever the decision, gay people will be able to get married by next May.
The referendum result calls for institution of a special law. The government must soon propose a draft of this law, which will then be sent to the parliament for review and legislation within its entire session from February to December. According to the referendum law, once a referendum passes, it cannot be overridden in two years. The gay camp still wants revision of the civic code to give them equal rights instead of the special law which they fear would have a lot of limitations. If it is not satisfied with the protections of a new law, it can initiate another referendum after two years.
The fight for true equal rights is therefore far from over. The LGBT movement is battle-hardened and determined. One equality campaign leader maintained that the referendums failed only because its members were “not good enough” at canvassing support compared with the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, which claims to represent family values and mainstream opinion. Time will tell, perhaps in another referendum.
The vote does not reflect either polls or anecdotal evidence that attitudes towards sexual minorities are changing and public support for same sex-marriage is growing. It is an example of how serious debate about legalisation can spark a backlash from conservative elements of society. They mobilised under the banner of family values to sway the public. However, it should not be a question of what the majority thinks. If personal freedoms are to thrive the majority must respect the rights of minorities.
The next landmark in the battle for equal rights for sexual minorities could be the hearing of an appeal by Hong Kong civil servant Angus Leung Chun-kwong, who is seeking the same spousal and tax benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples for his husband.
But it may take compelling evidence of a fundamental shift in community standards to convince the government and lawmakers to change the law. The battle for hearts and minds has some way to go.