Looking Back at Taiwan’s Journey to Becoming the First Asian Country to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage
On May 24, 2019, Taiwan became the ﬁrst Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. As we continue to celebrate this accomplishment a year later, we must reﬂect on all the struggles made by the LGBT+ community and its allies that made this historical event possible. In a country where homosexuality was considered “perverted,” the ﬁght for equal rights was a long and strenuous one—one that is still ongoing.
The ﬁrst public appeal for same-sex marriage in Taiwan occurred in 1986. Of course, with the existing social stigma of that time, the legislature turned the gay couple down. Back then, the LGBT+ movement was almost nonexistent on the island and there were no organizations that could have supported gay couples. It was only until the 1990s that Taiwan’s ﬁrst LGBT+ organization was founded. By 1995, discussions on gay marriage started to surface in society and the issue of same-sex marriage was ﬁrst publicly demanded by an LGBT+ organization. However, all these eﬀorts were shut down repeatedly. It wasn’t until 2008, when the Awakening Foundation (年婦⼥新知基⾦會), an organization ﬁghting for gender equality, provided a platform to speak about LGBT+ and feminist issues that the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) was formed. Before the TAPCPR, the eﬀort for equal rights was largely dispersed—some individual lawsuits and conversations were happening, but there was a lack of a uniﬁed front within the LGBT+ community. It is important to note that the TAPCPR, a pivotal organization in advocating for same-sex marriage, was founded on ideals of gender equality and feminism. It can be said that the history of the Taiwanese LGBT+ movement included the combined eﬀorts of various gender politics. This intersectionality is interesting to think about as the LGBT+ and feminist movements in Taiwan move forward.
Since the establishment of TAPCPR and the warming of society to LGBT+ issues, many celebrities have come out in support of the LGBT+ community, including artists like A-Mei (張惠妹) who participated in a free concert (愛最⼤ Love is King, It Makes Us All Equal) in support of the same-sex marriage law. Singer Fish Leong (梁靜茹) and Eve Ai (艾怡良) also recently covered a song called SEA You Soon (飄洋過海來看你) to commemorate the ﬁrst anniversary of the law. In the music video, she highlights the shortcomings of this law which prevents those who are from countries where gay marriage is illegal to marry their same-sex partners in Taiwan. Popular culture has greatly inﬂuenced the way society, especially young people, perceives the LGBT+ community. Depictions of the LGBT+ community in music videos and advertisements not only give representation to the community but also positively inﬂuence how the public perceives them.
But like all social movements, there are always opposing forces. Many conservative politicians and Christian organizations were—and are still—strongly against same-sex marriage. Some even went as far as forming their own poliKcal party to emphasize the value of traditional heterosexual marriages. Despite the resistance from these groups, the Taiwanese government (led by President Tsai Ing-wen of DPP) pushed for same-sex marriage policies and ensured their eﬀectiveness through legal procedures.
Acknowledging this, it is worthy to point out the great progress Taiwan has made since legalizing same-sex marriage. Not only was legalization a signiﬁcant milestone for the LGBT+ community, but it was also an aﬃrmation from the government that their identities are valid and just as worthy as others. For the government, legalizing same-sex marriage is taking a stand for values they are willing to uphold—love is love. And this message has left tangible results. A poll conducted this May by Taiwan’s Executive Yuan shows that since the same-sex marriage law passed, there has been a 15.1% increase in support of same-sex couples having the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples. Legalizing same-sex marriage does not disrupt tradiKonal heterosexual marriages like many believed it would. Rather, it ensured more people were granted the right to marry, a fact that enshrining equal marriage rights in law proved to society. Now, one year later, society’s gradual acceptance can be seen.
Still, the ﬁght is by no means over. As mentioned above, there are still certain same sex couples that are unable to get married due to their nationality and are separated due to visa restrictions. Furthermore, adoption is still largely restricted to same-sex couples, which prevents them from forming a family in the same way that heterosexual couples can. Bullying and hate speech are also issues that need to be addressed. Moreover, as the name LGBT+ suggests, there are still identities such as bisexual, transgender, and everyone else in the spectrum that have yet to gain recognition and equal rights in Taiwan. Legalizing same sex marriage was a large step towards equality in Taiwan, but it is not the end. In fact, there is still a long way to go.