Taiwan needs to move forward to marriage equality

(By Associated Press)

        Taiwan is the Asian country most likely to legalize same-sex marriage. Unfortunately for its supporters, if that phrase continues to be used, it means that the issue has been postponed and delayed, and that is precisely what has been happening.

        Mobilization by radical opponents of same-sex marriage, often belonging to a variety of religious groups, succeeded in preventing a rapid passage of the necessary amendments.

        Instead, the Legislative Yuan promised to organize two hearings, where supporters and opponents could both explain their views and theories. The hearings came and went, and the Legislative Yuan set December 26 as the new date for its review of the proposed amendments.

        There are three versions, one from ruling Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Yu Mei-nu, one from opposition Kuomintang legislator Jason Hsu, and one from the New Power Party.

        However, now that same-sex marriage again looks like approaching, the critics have found a new excuse to delay its introduction. The focus has now moved on to the question of whether existing laws should be amended or a completely new law should be drawn up.

        While this looks like an unnecessary distinction to most outsiders, the special law has been attacked by detractors as wanting to push gays into a separate category, not allowing them to marry like everybody else but instead being discriminated and isolated. Supporters of the separate law say it will simplify matters, because merely amending existing laws will be too complicated.

        The enthusiasm with which opponents of same-sex marriage have seized on the topic of a separate law leads one to believe that it is hardly likely to meet the requirements of the gay rights movement.

        In addition, unexpected statements by top DPP legislator Ker Chien-ming indicating support for a special law have shown that the fault line on the same-sex marriage issue does not so much run between the “green” and the “blue” side of Taiwan’s political spectrum, but between the generations.

        Elder people might not have been aware of gay rights until some years ago, and are less likely to understand why people from the same gender should want to marry each other. Gay marriage still comes across as something unnatural and unfamiliar to many older Taiwanese.

        Young people on the other hand might have met gay schoolmates, friends and colleagues, meaning the concept is not as alien and remote to then, but part of their daily lives. Youths are generally more open, better educated and more international in outlook, making them more tolerant to the idea of gay marriage.

        Recent opinion polls have shown a fifty-fifty divide on the issue, leading some to advocate a national referendum about the desirability of same-sex marriage.

        On the one hand, there are the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders who favor same-sex marriage together with a not-negligible amount of their supporters, and on the other hand, there are the hard-line opponents, often mobilized by religious groups from Christians to Buddhists.

        While it would be difficult to predict with certainty which of the two sides would be the larger one, it is a third group which could make a referendum a failure. Looking at preceding referendums, they failed because fewer than 50 percent of voters bothered to turn up to cast a ballot.

        There is a strong likelihood that even if the supporters of gay marriage outnumber the opponents, in the end a majority of citizens probably does not care about the issue enough to go and vote, even if they are sympathetic to the gay rights cause.

        Unlike taxes and unemployment, same-sex marriage does not directly affect most citizens, therefore it could be hard to convince them to come out and vote. While opinion polls suggest a balance between the two sides, asking for a quick opinion is different from requesting people to actually leave home and go cast a ballot.

        Instead of resolving a potentially divisive issue, a referendum in this case might just solve nothing and allow the problem to continue to fester.

        The next step forward should be simple. If explanations about the impact of same-sex marriage were still needed, just study the examples of countries where it has been legalized, find their positive and negative points and learn from them when you draw up the necessary legislation.

        A total of 21 countries have introduced gay marriages, with the Netherlands coming first in 2001, expanding later across Europe, to South Africa in a continent often openly hostile to gays, and to the United States and Latin America.

        Taiwan cannot afford to remain “the Asian country most likely to legalize same-sex marriage.” It needs to move on to the next stage and become the first country to have legalized same-sex marriage, setting an example for the other democracies in the region, showing them that yes, respect for gay rights is an universal value.