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LGBTQ people around the world rejoiced on May 24, 2017, when the Constitutional Court of Taiwan ruled that the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman (what was currently ‘on the books’ in the island nation) was unconstitutional. People were even more excited when the high court gave lawmakers two years to make Taiwan gay marriage a reality.
But here we are, a year and a half since that momentous court decision, and Taiwan is no closer to gay marriage being the law of the land than it was at the close of 2017. So what gives? What’s the holdup? And why are the Taiwanese about to vote in a public referendum on gay marriage?
According to Democratic Progressive Party legislator Yu Mei-Nu, Taiwan’s long journey to gay marriage has been caused by several related factors, and there are a few things standing in the way of all Taiwanese citizens from marrying the partner of their choice.
Here are 4 reasons why Taiwan gay marriage is currently stalled:
1. Anti-gay religious groups are a small but powerful minority.
In 2015, when three different bills in support of Taiwan gay marriage were brought to parliament, religious organizations and individuals came out of the woodwork to oppose them, and they’ve been mobilized against LGBTQ rights ever sense.
“Although these groups account for less than 10% of the population, they are vocal and can mobilize a lot of people,” says Yu Mei-Nu. “They evoke a lot of fear among people and spread false information. They do so especially among older people.”
A Taiwan gay marriage bill that was drafted after the Constitutional Court’s decision has received support across political party lines, according to Yu Mei-Nu, but it’s been challenged by religious and conservative groups. She specifically calls out the south of the island, where legislators are hesitant to support Taiwan gay marriage knowing they’ll likely lose the votes of their constituents.
2. The Taiwan gay marriage debate has turned to what form legislation should take.
While the Constitutional Court ruled that not allowing gays to get married is unconstitutional and demanded legislation to support that notion, there’s more than one form that legislation could take.
One option would be to amend the current Civil Code’s definition of marriage. Many conservatives favor the drafting of a completely new piece of legislation that could give same-sex unions another name entirely, as the high court’s decision didn’t go into too many specifics.
About a proposed Taiwan gay marriage bill, Yu Mei-Nu calls it “stuck in negotiations. It is not moving anywhere. Even within DPP, although not many lawmakers are against equal marriage, they are facing loud challenges at a district level from people they represent.”
3. Tsai and the DPP have been slow to act, which made way for the upcoming public referendum.
President Tsai Ing-wen, elected in 2016, ran on a campaign supportive of Taiwan gay marriage. Last May she responded to the Constitutional Court’s decision by saying, “The law must protect the people’s freedom of marriage and right to equality.” She also called on government agencies to quickly draft legislation.
But as late as this June it has been reported that Tsai is “noncommittal” when it comes to Taiwan gay marriage. And many have accused her majority government of dragging its feet and not devoting enough energy to meet the court’s two-year demand (after which Taiwan gay marriage would presumably just ‘become legal’).
In May, Hornet’s General Manager in Taiwan wrote an open letter to Tsai asking that she “keep her marriage equality promise.”
That dragging of feet has allowed enough time to pass for both conservatives and LGBTQ activists to put legally binding referenda up for a vote on Nov. 24.
Queer activists are pushing a referendum that would amend the Civil Code and legalize Taiwan gay marriage, plus another that would call for same-sex education in schools. Conservatives’ referendum says “marriage” is between a man and a woman, and if that one passes, it could mean that gay unions in Taiwan are accomplished through something more similar to “civil unions.”
4. More work needs to be done to change the minds of the Taiwanese people.
According to Yu Mei-Nu, “We have already passed the point of reasoning and using legal terms. Now we have to slowly get people’s heads to turn around.” She feels that grassroots movements based on genuine discussions with real people are the way to go.
“People may have prejudices, but after talking they are often willing to understand the issue. They were often misguided. We have to communicate so that parents will soon realize its not so fearful if their children are gay,” she says.
When do you think we’ll see Taiwan gay marriage actually become a reality?
Featured image by Sam Yeh / AFP / Getty Images