Lawmaker says same-sex marriage ruling ‘liberating’ for Taiwan

But ‘we are still fighting’ even after landmark decision, according to Yu Mei-nu

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 6:19pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 9:48pm

Being the first in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage was a big step towards creating a “broad-minded” society, a Taiwanese legislator said, referring to a ruling last year by the island’s justice system that guaranteed the right under Taiwan’s constitution.

People have recognised “the diversity of Taiwanese society” in the process of discussing the issue of same-sex marriage, “and they have become aware of disadvantages sexual minorities face”, Yu Mei-nu said in a recent interview with Kyodo News in Tokyo.

For Japan, there are also many takeaways to be gained from the landmark ruling in terms of educating people on human rights and shedding light on those in society who have been marginalised.

“Introduction of same-sex marriage will also liberate people” from conventions and prejudice, she added.

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Her comments came after the Council of Grand Justices ruled in May last year that a provision in the civil code, which stipulates marriage is the legal union between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional, making Taiwan the first Asian jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriage.

Yu, from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, has greatly contributed to pushing forward the moves by stirring debates over the issue and submitting bills to parliament to amend the civil code.

She visited Japan to share the experience at a symposium organised by the Japan Association for Taiwanese Studies.

In the interview, Yu said that as a lawyer focusing on human rights, she became interested in issues involving sexual minorities, or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, while working to achieve gender equality.

“Some lesbians were involved in our gender-equality campaign,” she said.

In 2000, the suspicious death of a male junior high school student, who is believed to have been the target of homophobic bullying, prompted Taiwanese authorities to review sexual education under the Gender Equity Education Act so that children could be free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Under a labour law, discriminatory treatment in recruitment based on gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, among other factors, is also prohibited.

“We have addressed issues over LGBTs ... in accordance with the development of our democratisation [since the late 1980s],” Yu said. “We staged peaceful demonstrations so people could join us with their families ... They were just like carnivals.

“These efforts resulted in the latest landmark ruling on same-sex marriage,” she said.

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Commenting on the moves in Taiwan, Ken Suzuki, a Meiji University professor of Chinese and Taiwanese laws, said: “They indicate that changes in education could change a society in 10 years.”

Suzuki, who was also present for the interview, was hopeful that Japan would follow the Taiwanese path to legalisation of same-sex marriage.

Some Japanese municipalities, including Sapporo, Naha as well as Shibuya and Setagaya wards in Tokyo, have recognised same-sex partnerships to ensure couples the same treatment and entitlement to local services as married couples.

Suzuki himself has been involved in a campaign to legalise same-sex marriage at the state level, arguing that excluding same-sex couples from the legal marriage framework constitutes discrimination against LGBTs.

“In Japan, LGBTs, as individuals rather than as organised campaigners, are currently calling for their local governments to introduce the same-sex partnership system in more than 20 municipalities,” he said. “These self-motivated actions indicate the momentum for same-sex marriage legalisation in Japan is growing,” he added.

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Among the Group of Seven industrialised nations, only Japan has not yet introduced a same-sex marriage or same-sex partnership system at the state level.

In Taiwan, authorities concerned are required to amend or enact relevant laws within two years in accordance with the 2017 ruling of the court interpretation.

But Yu said there were still hurdles to overcome.

“In the face of the ruling, opponents have no choice but accepting same-sex marriage, but they plan to introduce it by enacting a special law, rather than amending the Civil Code, citing concerns over breakdown of traditional family values,” she said.

Under a special law, they want to place LGBTs in a special category, just like the “separate but equal” legal doctrine to justify the racial segregation that occurred under Jim Crow laws in the United States, according to Yu and Suzuki.

“We are still fighting” even after the landmark ruling, Yu said. “Progress in society cannot be a heaven-sent gift.”