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    Taiwan Activists Say Now Is the Time to Fulfill the Promise of Marriage Equality

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis–

    This past October, we were thrilled to attend Taipei Pride, the largest annual gathering of LGBTQ people in Asia. We also then witnessed the extraordinary synergy taking place between the political, social, and cultural elements of the Taiwanese LGBTQ community.

    This year’s Pride in Taipei was by far the biggest ever with over 123,000 attendees. Excitement and anticipation were sky high with May’s historic Constitutional Court victory promising marriage equality within two years and also granting broad constitutional protections for gay people that are even stronger than we have in the U.S. We loved Taiwan, and it was a great place to visit as an LGBTQ traveler. We’ll share our experiences and report on the status of the LGBTQ movement in Taiwan in this and upcoming issues. 

    Community leaders at Pride rallied the crowds with inspiring messages about the importance of making the Court’s promise of full marriage equality a reality now. The Constitutional Court gave the government two years to implement its decision and “discretion” as to “the formality” of how they do it. If the national legislature fails to act in two years, same-sex couples will be able to marry then under current procedures. So far, the legislature has not acted.

    Activists are concerned that the legislature might duck the issue over the next 18 months, or pass a bill that deprives married same-sex couples of important rights such as adopting children, access to fertility clinics and other equal treatment with respect to parental rights, and equal access to immigration. Anti-equality political groups have been lobbying against full equality in implementing the Court’s decision. 
     
    “Don’t be so happy yet,” cautioned Jennifer Lu of the Tongzhi Hotline, a leading LGBTQ organization and one of the leaders of the Taiwan Marriage Equality Coalition, as she and other activists inspired marchers to urge legislators to finish the job by passing a full marriage equality bill as mandated by the Court decision by the end of the year.

    In a Facebook message to attendees of Taipei Pride, President Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s first female president and a marriage and LGBTQ equality supporter, affirmed that the Constitutional Court’s ruling “is binding on all,” but did not address specifics, and noted that “we also have a responsibility to ensure social cohesion.” From the stage at Pride, Lu responded that she supported social cohesion, but made clear that there could be no unity when one group of people, namely LGBTQ people, continues to face discrimination under the law.

    Among the crowd at Pride was Jay Lin, a Marriage Equality Coalition member; he and his partner are proud parents of two small children and want to get married. Lin’s wish for his family is simple, yet profound: “I hope that we will be able to get married with our boys as the flower boys. The wedding doesn’t need to be big or fancy, but it is significant for us to be able to show our commitment to each other, to our families, and to society at large.” We met many LGBTQ people who, even if they didn’t want to get married now, spoke of how important marriage equality was to their sense of dignity as LGBTQ Taiwanese. 

    Advocates are passionate in their quest to make Taiwan’s dream of full equality come true.

    The night before Pride, we had the opportunity to meet legendary LGBTQ activist Chi Chia-wei, whom some call the “Harvey Milk” of the Taiwan LGBTQ movement. Chia-wei has been fighting for LGBTQ and marriage equality for over 30 years, and was a party to last May’s landmark lawsuit. Through a translator, Chia-wei told us that marriage is the only “true equality” and that no country has gone backwards from marriage equality to something less.  

    His attorney in the case, Victoria Hsu, co-founder of Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights and herself an icon of the Taiwanese LGBTQ rights movement, explained: “The government has the constitutional duty to fulfill the Constitutional Court’s ruling … . The government should pass a full, comprehensive bill.” Hsu vowed to go to court on behalf of deprived LGBTQ families to enforce the Court’s decision if the government did anything less. She emphasized that “waiting two years is simply too long. A lot of LGBT couples can’t wait that long,” referring to couples who “are suffering because of illness and accident.” Some members of couples have already passed away while they wait. “It is the government’s responsibility to repair this human rights violation as soon as possible,” said Hsu.

    Some may ask: Why Taiwan? Why does Taiwan have some of the most progressive laws on LGBTQ rights in the world? For example, same-sex relations have never been illegal there, nationwide laws prohibit discrimination in employment and public accommodations, and LGB people have been able to serve in the military since 2002.

    Jason Tsao of the Tongzhi Hotline and the Marriage Equality Coalition points to the fact that in the twenty years since the end of martial law in Taiwan, “people have learned to express their expectation for changes through elections.” This political engagement has enabled “the vigorous development of civil society and the political participation of the young generation.”  Community mobilization through public rallies and other events garners media attention. Tsao also pointed to the path-breaking 2004 national Gender Equity Education Act, which he says has enabled more young people to understand LGBTQ and gender issues, but is unfortunately under attack now from anti-LGBTQ political forces.

    Taiwan appears to be a country in which democracy is growing and strengthening. The vibrant, engaged and ever-growing LGBTQ movement is truly inspiring. If as LGBTQ activists seek, the government enacts full marriage equality now and does not retreat on LGBTQ education in schools—Taiwan will unquestionably be a leader of the LGBTQ movement not just in Asia, but also in the world.

    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.