by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

CONCERNS ABOUT the means by which the upcoming referendum on marriage equality might become rigged have been raised with recent revelations regarding televised debates on referendum questions to be organized by the Central Election Commission (CEC). It has been found that anti-gay groups opposed to marriage equality such as the Protect the Family Alliance have taken to registering as pro-marriage equality groups to stand for the televised debates, as a means of rigging the debate.

According to the Referendum Act, it is required that five televised debates be held on any public referendum question, which are to be organized by the CEC. Each debate will cost 1 million NTD. As there are currently ten referendum proposals set to be voted on in 2018 elections, a total of fifty televised debates will be held on these ten referendum proposals.

Anti-gay demonstrators demonstrating outside the Legislative Yuan in November 2016. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Three questions currently up for debate pertain to LGBTQ issues, including three questions regarding gay marriage, gender equality question, and whether the state has an obligation to provide for the common welfare of members of the LGBTQ community. As such, 15 debates will be held on these issues, but it was recently discovered for nine of those fifteen debates, anti-gay groups have posed as LGBTQ advocacy groups in order to register in these televised debates. The clear aim of anti-gay groups, then, would be to rig these debates in such a way to make the LGBTQ community look bad.

Indeed, the one time that representatives of anti-gay groups had to debate marriage equality advocates took place when the Protect the Family Alliance organized a recall vote against NPP legislator Huang Kuo-Chang for his staunch advocacy of marriage equality. During the debate, Huang won quite handily over Greater Taipei Stability Power Alliance representative Sun Chi-Cheng. Apart from that Huang is an accomplished debater, Sun proved incompetent as a debate, resorting to tabloid-like claims such as that the NPP advocates the legalization of all drugs and that Huang had been responsible for brainwashing the daughter of an anonymous opponent of marriage equality in the past. Sun also made numerous gaffes, such as closing with the statement, “Remember four characters on December 16th: ‘Recall Huang Kuo-Chang!’” (12月16日蓋下四個字「罷免黃國昌」) despite the fact that this is five characters (罷免黃國昌), not four.

Evidently, anti-gay groups learned their lesson from this, which was that they should try and seek to rig debates instead of honestly competing in them. While the attempts of anti-gay groups to rig the debating process did not go unnoticed by Taiwanese civil society, it remains to be seen if the CEC will take action to try and ensure a fair debate is had on the issue.

Scenes from the 2018 Taipei pride parade held last weekend. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

It is to be hoped that the CEC will establish a process to ensure that those who seek to represent a specific issue will be genuine advocates of that issue, rather than charlatans seeking to misrepresent an issue. But at the same time, the CEC took the unusual measure of allowing two forms of referendum questions on gay marriage and gender equality education be allowed to on the ballot, one with wording slanted against gay marriage and gender equality education as pushed for by anti-gay groups, and one with wording favorable to gay marriage and gender equality education as advocated for by LGBTQ advocacy groups. This has already led to the possibility that a contradictory result will come out of the referendum, such as that many may end up confused by the wording and vote in favor of marriage equality or gender equality education on one referendum question and then against it on the other referendum question on the issue.

And as with the fact that Huang was nearly recalled when he faced his recall vote in spite of his far stronger performance than anti-gay activists, it is also possible that the televised debates would have little effect anyway. Anti-gay activists may simply prove so ideologically committed that they would not be swayed anyway. This remains to be seen.

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