On Wednesday, March 24, Taiwan’s highest court ruled that current laws, which stipulate that marriage is solely between a man and a woman, violate the Constitution, and had “no rational basis.” The government was given two years to amend the existing laws or pass new legislation.
In a press release, the court announced that if this is not done within the two-year period, “two persons of the same sex who intend to create the said permanent union shall be allowed to have their marriage registration effectuated at the authorities in charge of household registration, by submitting a written document signed by two or more witnesses in accordance with the said Marriage Chapter.” Essentially, if the laws are not changed, same-sex couples will be allowed to marry regardless. This decision is groundbreaking and puts Taiwan on the path to being the first Asian nation to allow same-sex marriages, according to Pew Research.
Two requests for a Constitutional Court ruling on article 972 of the civil code, which states marriage is between a man and a woman, brought about this decision. One of the requests was put forth by gay rights activity Chi Chia Wei in 2015, who, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA), has spent nearly half his life fighting for marriage equality. The other requests were put forth by the city government of Taipei after three same-sex couples filed lawsuits when they were not allowed to register to marry.
This ruling comes in the face of increasing homophobic tensions in the region. Same-sex marriage is not legal in any Asian country. In Japan, a few regions have allowed for same-sex partnerships, but these couples and other LGBTQIA+ individuals are not protected under Japanese law. While being gay is not illegal in China, last year the nation’s first same-sex marriage lawsuit ruled against the couple, demonstrating that the nation still has a long way to go in achieving full equality. In South Korea, the government has begun to crack down on gay armed service members. Furthermore, in Indonesia, a majority Muslim nation, restrictions on same-sex partnerships have begun to face more restrictions, most notably the caning of two men for their sexual relationship in conservative Aceh.
Many hope that this ruling will encourage other Asian nations to take more progressive views on same-sex relationships and being to recognize the rights of LGBTQIA+ citizens. “We feel that this is a huge success for the LGBT and marriage equality movement in Taiwan,” said Wayne Lin.
However, many fear that, despite this ruling, same-sex marriage will not be achieved. The ruling states that the laws must be amended or new laws passed but did not give specific criteria to be filled. Therefore, many worry that the Legislative Yuan will simply pass a law that recognizes same-sex marriage but does not provide equal rights and treatment in all matters afforded to heterosexual couples. Yu Mei Nu, a Taiwanese legislature, stated, “I hope that the legislators will have the moral courage to pass same-sex marriage into law. However, it is hard to predict how long it will take at this moment. The opposition toward gay marriage in Taiwan won’t just gladly accept it and give up the debate, so the debate will continue.”
A variety of groups opposing gay marriage spoke out against this ruling in the months leading up to it and will continue to lobby parliament to discourage new legislation. They argue that since this subject affects the entire society, it should not be decided by justices but rather through a referendum. The efforts of such groups managed to stall parliament in moving this legislation. Regardless, in two years time, same-sex marriages will be allowed in Taiwan, even if article 972 of the civil code remains intact.