by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Brian Hioe
MANY UNCERTAINTIES remain for efforts to realize marriage equality in Taiwan, with the approval of multiple referendums on marriage equality and sexual education. Two referendums, pushed for by marriage equality supporters, have phrasing favorable to the legalization of marriage equality and have reached the necessary benchmarks to be held. On the other hand, referendums with phrasing unfavorable to gay marriage and sexual education have also reached necessary benchmarks to be held, as pushed for by anti-gay groups.
Volunteers collecting signatures for the pro-marriage equality referendum. Photo credit: 婚姻平權大平台-相挺為平權，全民撐同志/Facebook
It is to be seen how the Central Election Commission (CEC) will handle the apparent contradiction of two referendums on the same issue with different wording. It would, after all, be illogical for both to appear on the ballot. If both did appear on the ballot, this could also hypothetically lead to contradictory results, such as referendums with wording favorable to and against gay marriage passing. The CEC may try to find wording in between the phrasing of referendums favorable and unfavorable to gay marriage, but it will probably come under fire from either side no matter how it handles the situation.
On the other hand, it is unknown how the Taiwanese public will vote on the referendum. Before 2016, it was generally thought that marriage equality would pass into law rather speedily in Taiwan, given lack of any outspoken social opposition, and what was seen as the progressive bent of Taiwanese society. Nevertheless, this proved mistaken, with the rise of anti-marriage equality groups largely led by Christian and other religious groups.
Such groups demonstrated up until the ruling by the Council of Grand Justices in May 2017 that marriage equality would need to be legalized within two years. By demonstrating that there was indeed some level of social opposition to the legalization of gay marriage in Taiwan, this led elements of the DPP to break away from president Tsai Ing-Wen’s commitment to push for marriage equality as chair of the DPP.
Anti-gay groups collecting signatures for their referendum against gay marriage. Photo credit: 我愛家我公投/Facebook
Although large-scale anti-marriage equality protests have not taken place in past months, indications are that the pro-marriage equality camp is outgunned by anti-marriage equality groups, seeing as the anti-gay marriage equality referendum was able to gain signatures more quickly than the pro-gay marriage equality referendum. This may not indicate that more people in Taiwan oppose marriage equality than support it, per se, but this does seem to indicate that the anti-gay marriage has superior resources to advocates of marriage equality. This was observed previously with regards to a recall vote faced by NPP legislator Huang Kuo-Chang for his support of gay marriage.
Yet what would happen, then, if marriage equality were to be voted down, as is very possible? If so, a political crisis might be in the cards. The fact that in the past year, Taiwan has seen referendums on everything from nuclear power to gay marriage to coal-burning power plants is the result of changes to the Referendum Act, is the result of changes to the Referendum Act passed in December 2017. The current set of referendums which will be voted on later this year, then, are a trial run for such changes.
However, what will happen if a referendum votes against something already ruled on by the Council of Grand Justices? This could lead to contention about what the role played by referendums within Taiwan is, with regards to whether judicial interpretation overrules what is, in theory, a direct referendum by Taiwanese citizens.
Voting by referendum has come to be seen as a fundamental right of Taiwanese citizens by many, even if referendum reform was historically pushed for by the pan-Green camp, rather than the pan-Blue camp—which is decidedly closer to anti-marriage equality groups. And so the claim that the judiciary is being used to trample on the rights of the citizens will almost certainly be used against the Tsai administration.
The Tsai administration will need to tread carefully regarding how it frames the results of the referendum on marriage equality if marriage equality ends up being voted down, then. Of course, that the Tsai administration currently faces such difficulties returns to its fundamental cowardice in failing to confront anti-gay groups directly and emboldening them in that way. Stronger support of marriage equality would have nipped the problem in the bud to begin with and it was the Tsai administration dropping its support of marriage equality in face of opposition which has led to this present dilemma for it.