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    2019: An Historic Year for Marriage Equality Worldwide?

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis–

    Nicole Kopaunik and Daniela Paier of southern Austria sure knew how to kick off the new year right when they became the first same-sex couple ever to marry in that country, tying the knot just minutes after the clock struck midnight on the 1st. As of 2019, the hills are alive with marriage equality in Austria, making it the 16th nation in Europe and 26th in the world with the freedom to marry. We look to 2019 to bring marriage equality or significant progress toward that goal to additional countries throughout the world.

    Just over the border in the Czech Republic, activists hope their country will soon become the first former Soviet-bloc country to gain marriage equality. The Czech Republic has provided same-sex couples registered partnerships with substantial rights since 2006, and public opinion polling consistently shows substantial support for marriage equality.

    Last year, 46 members of the Czech Parliament from a range of political parties introduced marriage equality legislation supported by the government, and Parliament had scheduled debate on the marriage equality legislation for October 31. The debate was postponed, however, with a vote possible early this year. If the bill passes Parliament, the more conservative Czech Senate must approve it and Czech President Milos Zerman, who has not publicly taken a position, must sign it.

    LGBTIQ leader Czeslaw Walek told Human Rights Watch last summer: “The path is long and curvy, but we are hopeful” with the possibility “we will celebrate marriage equality in the Czech Republic during the Pride March of August 2019.”

    On the other side of the world, Taiwan in May 2019 will in all likelihood become the first country in Asia with the freedom to marry by virtue of a 2017 Constitutional Court decision that provided two years for implementation. As we reported extensively in the December 6, 2018, edition of the San Francisco Bay Times, anti-LGBTIQ referenda passed late last year create uncertainty and possible challenges for achieving immediate, full marriage equality in Taiwan. Marriages will begin in May, though, and the breakthrough may have a huge impact throughout the rest of Asia.

    The Philippines could beat Taiwan to the punch if its Supreme Court rules in favor of the freedom to marry in a potentially landmark case that is now fully briefed and argued. During the June 2018 oral argument, Justice Samuel Martires pointedly questioned the government’s attorney: “Why do we have to discriminate against same-sex marriage? … Are not gay couple(s), lesbians capable of loving like the heterosexuals? … Why are we allowing marriage between criminals, between a felon, murderer (but not same-sex couples)? … Why is the state still sleeping and not facing this reality that nowadays, there are individuals who would like to be happy like the gay people, lesbians, the transwoman, transmen? Why is the state so indifferent to the happiness of these people?”

    And Justice Marvic Leonen asked: “Why do we interpret our laws and our constitution that we impose something on the freedoms and happiness of others, without showing a very viable reason except tradition? … Are we free to choose a portion in the past and make it tradition and exclude the other portions of the past?”

    We do not know how representative these questions are of the views of the majority of the currently 14-member Philippine Supreme Court. Controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at times has even expressed support for marriage equality. If the Court rules in favor of equality, same-sex couples could possibly be able to marry in the Philippines later this year.

    In Japan, LGBTIQ couples are also taking to the courts, with ten couples from different parts of the country announcing that on Valentine’s Day, they will jointly file a lawsuit for the right to marry under the “fundamental human rights” and equality guarantees of the Japanese Constitution. Lawsuits asserting same-sex partners’ inheritance and immigration rights are already pending.

    The progressive Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the opposition party in the Diet (Japan’s national legislature), will also introduce marriage equality legislation early this year. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and the governing conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will oppose both the lawsuit and the legislation, creating obstacles to immediate success. LGBTIQ leaders, however, are using the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the fact that five of the G-7 countries have marriage equality and Italy has same-sex partnerships—but Japan has neither—to pressure for change now.

    And in Thailand, the current military government announced its support late last year for civil partnership legislation that would provide same-sex couples substantial rights, but not full marriage equality. With elections for the lower house of the Thai Parliament anticipated in 2019, a vote and further action on the legislation may likely take place after the election. If successful, partnership recognition could come to Thailand this year as well.

    In the Americas, we await Costa Rica very likely becoming the first Central American country with marriage equality in 2020 when a 2018 court decision takes effect. In Cuba, a vote will be held this year on a new constitution that leaves open the possibility of marriage equality in the future, but does not include the explicit guarantee that LGBTIQ activists, including Mariela Castro, daughter of Communist Party head and former President Raul Castro, had sought.

    In Bermuda, the government of that British territory late last year filed with the Privy Council in London its final possible appeal attempting to roll back marriage equality in the territory. If the Council chooses to take the case and rules in favor of equality, the decision could have precedential effect not just in Bermuda, but also in other British territories.

    Stay tuned—and engaged—for what we hope is an historic year for marriage equality progress worldwide.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.