Friday, May 17th, 2019, saw history made in Taiwan, as it became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriages, while the same day saw a rule upheld that criminalized same-sex marriages in Kenya. They are two countries on different continents but faced with the same issue of LGBT community.
A first in Asian history, Taiwan is the first Asian country to approve same-sex marriages. This started back in May 2017, when Taiwan’s Constitutional Court said that the constitution allows same-sex marriages and gave its parliament two years to adjust the law accordingly. Two years later on Friday, May 17th, 2019, same-sex marriage supporters gathered outside the legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan. They awaited a decision on legalization of same-sex marriages, a first in Asia.
This decision did not come easily. It followed several lobbying and advocacy efforts put up by LGBT rights activists, who championed for the cause for two decades. Their efforts finally paid off when Taiwan’s Constitutional Court legalized same-sex marriages. Legalizing of same-sex marriages comes with other benefits like that of insurance and child custody, which are available to male-female married couples. This decision by the courts made Taiwan the first country in the Asian continent to pass a comprehensive law that lays out the terms of same-sex marriages.
Shian Hong-chi, a professor of gender studies and communication management at Shih Hsin University in Taiwan, has said, “It’s a breakthrough, I have to say so. I could not imagine that could happen in just a few years.” Religious and political groups that hold conservative values that discourage the LGBT community have since relaxed their efforts against same-sex marriages in many Asian countries, from Japan to much of Southeast Asia. Thailand is in the process of exploring the idea of legalization of same-sex civil partnerships. China, however, remains adamant in its criticism of same-sex marriages. Officials in China have repeatedly discouraged even the discussion of legalizing same-sex marriages.
Taiwan’s journey began in the 1990s, when leaders in today’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society, dedicated to promoting the rights of sexual and ethnic minorities, women, the handicapped and others. Kenya, on the other side of the ocean, may be an open society, but is not so open in matters pertaining to the LGBT community. It is a conservative country with most people holding conservative views and values. A large majority of Kenyans, hold negative views against LGBT people. Homosexuality is considered a taboo and extremely distasteful to the cultural values and morality of Kenya.
According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes project, 96 percent of Kenya’s residents believe homosexuality is a way of life that society should not accept. The Kenyan Penal Code of 1930, Section 162, states that sexual acts between men are illegal and carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. Further, according to Section 165 of the same Penal Code, “Any male person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male person, whether in public or private, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for five years.” Kenya’s high court on Friday, May 17th, 2019, upheld the Penal Code of 1930, Section 162, banning gay sex. This means that anyone found culpable risks facing a jail term of 14 years.
Different countries are held together by different moral systems, which plays out in the judicial system and the rulings on most cases – homosexuality being one of such cases. What is of importance, though, is respect for humanity. Irrespective of which side of the spectrum one is on, humanity must be upheld at all times. We at the OWP condemn the killing, torture, discrimination, and all human rights violations against members of the LGBT community.
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