by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

A TAIWANESE-SINGAPOREAN lesbian couple won their court case to get married yesterday, following a two-year lawsuit. The couple is publicly known as Xiao C and Mei-ping. Mei-ping is Singaporean while Xiao C is Taiwanese. 

Though gay marriage was legalized in Taiwan in May 2019, restrictions remained on the books for transnational gay marriages. If a gay couple wished to be married, one member of the couple would have to be Taiwanese, and their partner would have to be from a country that had also legalized gay marriage. 

As Singapore has not legalized gay marriage, this is what led to difficulties for Xiao C and Mei-ping. According to the couple, during the course of the trial, they were required to appear in court so often that their daughter became very familiar with the court building. 

The couple has been together for over ten years and was married in Australia in 2018. Following the ruling, now Mei-ping will be able to jointly adopt their daughter. Current laws in Taiwan specify that for a couple to jointly adopt, the child must be the biological daughter of one of the couple, something that LGBTQ advocacy groups have also criticized. 

The couple originally tried to marry in October 2019, but this was rejected, leading to a lawsuit against the Songshan District Household Registration Office. In the lawsuit, the couple was represented by the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR). 

The TAPCPR was the organization that represented Chi Chia-wei in the landmark case that resulted in the Council of Grand Justices ruling that gay marriage had to be legalized within two years in May 2017. Another one of the TAPCPR’s recent accomplishments was overturning laws that required surgery for individuals to change their legal gender. The TAPCPR also launched a campaign to push for the scope of transnational gay marriages in Taiwan to be widened in May 2020, a particularly salient issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, with border closures having resulted in the separation of many couples. 

Statement by the TAPCPR on the ruling

The ruling only applies to Xiao C and Mei-ping, however, following on the heels of two previous rulings that were also case-specific. The first of these rulings took place in May 2021, resulting in Taiwanese national Ting Tse-yan being able to marry his partner Guzifer Leong, from Macau, in August. 

The ruling that allowed Leong and Ting to get married took place on the basis of the argument that Leong lives and works in Taiwan. Namely, Macau’s Civil Code states that “habitual residence” determines what law applies to individuals from Macau. This was used in order to argue that because Leong lives and works in Taiwan and has done so since 2017, Taiwanese laws regarding gay marriage should apply to him.

Nevertheless, according to the TAPCPR, there are over 400 couples in Taiwan that are unable to be married because of current restrictions on transnational gay marriages. 

Ironically, part of the push for gay marriage that resulted in the legalization of gay marriage last year took place after the suicide of French academic Jacques Picoux in 2016. Picoux committed suicide after his Taiwanese partner’s death. Because the two were unable to marry, Picoux was prevented from visiting his partner at the hospital as he was dying, nor was his partner able to pass on property to Picoux after his death.

Though Xiao C and Mei-ping’s marriage will set a legal precedent that can be used in the push for changing laws regulating transnational gay marriage, it does not mean more than a case-specific change. 

In January, the Executive Yuan completed a draft bill that would lift some of the current restrictions. The draft bill was to be reviewed by other government bureaus, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice, and the Mainland Affairs Council. As different laws regulate Chinese compared to other foreigners, given the complications of the ROC framework, the Mainland Affairs Council also stated that it would review the relevant provisions of laws applying to Chinese spouses pertaining to draft bills. 

However, the bill still requires one member of a couple to be Taiwanese. The completion of the Executive Yuan’s draft bill took place following the Judicial Yuan completing a set of draft revisions in November of last year and passing this on, illustrating the long delay on the issue. 

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