by Brian Hioe

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Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

NOW WOULD BE a crucial time for attempts to realize marriage equality in Taiwan, with large demonstrations by Christian anti-marriage equality groups having led the DPP to backslide on the issue, with propositions from DPP majority speaker Ker Chien-Ming to pass a civil partnership bill instead of a marriage equality bill. In recent weeks, demonstrations by anti-marriage equality demonstrators have numbered in the hundreds of thousands, with reportedly 100,000 demonstrators in Taipei, 40,000 in Kaohsiung, and 50,000 in Taichung.

While polling has consistently demonstrated that a majority of Taiwanese are in support of marriage equality, anti-marriage equality demonstrators claim to have the support of the “silent majority” of Taiwanese society. While anti-marriage equality demonstrators claim that a referendum should be held on marriage equality, with claims that marriage equality would disrupt the fundamental basis of society on the family as its basic building block, very probably anti-marriage equality demonstrators do not actually aim to push for a public referendum on marriage equality, but merely to construct the perception in the media that the majority of Taiwanese society is opposed to marriage equality. The large numbers that anti-marriage equality demonstrators mobilized, as led by the “Protect The Family Alliance,” have helped in creating this perception.

It is an unfortunate fact that anti-marriage equality demonstrators have in recent weeks mobilized numbers surpassing the yearly LGBTQ pride parade which was held late October, which numbered 80,000 in number. Apart from that the pride parade was not directly about marriage equality, another factor behind insufficient numbers was likely the fact that marriage equality seemed like a fait accompli to members of the LGBTQ community and their allies at that point in time.

Demonstrations by the “Protect The Family Alliance” in November. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

It was the unexpected show of force by anti-marriage equality demonstrators which began in November, with 20,000 anti-marriage equality occupying Jinan Road in front of the Legislative Yuan on November 17th during the first reading of the marriage equality bill, which allowed DPP legislators who were probably never fully onboard with Tsai Ing-Wen’s campaign promise to realize marriage equality in Taiwan to begin dragging their feet. The Presbyterian Church, which is in itself divided on the issue on gay marriage, has a strong presence within the DPP and so it is unsurprising that elements of the DPP remain opposed to gay marriage. If the DPP was less divided on the issue, seeing as the DPP currently controls the presidency, Executive Yuan, Judicial Yuan, and Legislative Yuan, it could easily force marriage equality into law, as it recently did with a series of unpopular and hotly contested changes to the Labor Standards Act..

As such, while much contestation had already occurred between the DPP, KMT, and NPP versions of the marriage equality bill, an unexpected reversal would occur on November 26th with Legislative Yuan majority speaker Ker Chien-Ming introducing the possibility that the DPP would seek to enact “separate but equal” civil partnerships instead of marriage equality. Anti-marriage equality groups have indicated that they would be more accepting of civil partnerships, seeing as they do not allow gay couples the legal status of marriage.

The hypocrisy of the DPP is evident in how it is attempting to pass off civil partnerships as marriage equality. With Taiwan having received much international attention for the possibility of Taiwan becoming the first nation in Asia to legalize gay marriage. The DPP would like to have Taiwan be acknowledged as the first nation in Asia to legalize gay marriage, raising Taiwan’s international profile while also distinguishing it from China in that way.

Rally in support of marriage equality outside of the Legislative Yuan on November 28th. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

And opposition to gay marriage as mobilized by the “Protect The Family Alliance” does not, in fact, come from a “silent majority” of society but largely from fundamentalist Christian groups. Rallies organized by the “Protect The Family Alliance” routinely see loud praying and speaking in tongues by participants. Indeed, a far cry from the diversity and plurality of individuals seen at pride parades in Taiwan, demonstrations organized by the “Protect The Family Alliance” are starkly uniform in nature, consisting of crowds all wearing white. Individuals not wearing white denied admittance into the rallies, including journalists. Along such lines, higher numbers in recent anti-marriage equality rallies can be explained in that pro-marriage equality rallies largely consists of individuals who have chosen to come of their own accord because they have decided to take a stand for equality, while anti-marriage equality rallies seem to largely be organized by church groups who mobilize collectively.

Fundamentally, the “Protect The Family Alliance” consists of individuals who aim to make enough noise to make it seem as if they have the majority support of society, in order to deny LGBTQ individuals the rights that they have long been denied. Again, polling has consistently indicated precisely the opposite, and even it were in fact that the majority of Taiwanese society was against marriage equality, equality is a fundamental human right that one should assert even if lacking majority support of society. Sometimes it requires going against the flow to realize what is right.

But in consideration of the cowardice and hypocrisy of the DPP government, it will require a show of force by the LGBTQ community and their allies in order to realize marriage equality—otherwise the issue could stall for years in legislature and Taiwan will simply join the list of other Asian countries once touted as having been on the cusp of being the first country in Asia to legalize gay marriage. With another reading of the bill slated for December 26th, it is imperative that rallies in support marriage equality planned for Taipei on December 10th and Taichung on December 17th have a large turnout. 22 rallies are also being organized in solidarity overseas, primarily by overseas Taiwanese students in America and Europe.

As it is possible that the passage of the marriage equality bill may stall in legislature, even then, it may require further demonstrations to counteract possible future demonstrations by the “Protect The Family Alliance” and to continue to assert strong social support for marriage equality in Taiwan. But when did any disenfranchised group of people receive their rights simply by asking nicely? For the disenfranchised to obtain the rights denied to them always requires struggle. And so the fight is on for marriage equality in Taiwan.