The Taiwanese government will put the question of same-sex marriage up to a non-binding voter referendum in November 2018, according to local journalists. The approval of a Taiwan marriage vote comes after a period of legislative inaction following a historic May 24, 2017, ruling from Taiwan’s Constitutional Council’s declaring the “one man, one woman” definition of marriage in the country’s civil code as unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, the country’s Central Election Commission decided to move forward a voter referendum pursued by anti-LGBTQ activists to the next stage. That means in November voters might need to vote for three things: whether only heterosexual marriages should be allowed under the civil code, whether public school children should learn about gay and lesbian topics and whether same-sex couples should be allowed to wed under an entirely new law.
The Constitutional Council’s May 2017 ruling only said the government had two years to implement a law granting same-sex couples the rights and privileges of marriage — basically a deadline of May 2019. But the council didn’t specify how the legislature should do it, and because the legislature didn’t move quickly, Taiwan’s anti-gay groups were able to successfully petition the election commission for a referendum.
The downsides of a Taiwan marriage referendum
Jack Hsiao, Hornet’s General Manager in Taiwan, says that similar to what happened in Australia, the majority party in Taiwan’s legislative body has been too scared to take a stand in the debate over LGBTQ rights and would prefer to let public opinion decide.
But, Hsiao adds, leaving the fate of marriage up to a public vote has several drawbacks: First, as we saw in the United States, because LGBTQ people are a social minority, leaving their civil rights up to a popular vote leaves them at a disadvantage. Also, if Taiwanese same-sex couples aren’t allowed to marry but are given “civil unions” or something else, it could create “separate but (un)equal” second-class unions, preventing gay couples from gaining the full spectrum of marriage rights.
Because the upcoming referendum is non-binding, it will still be up to the legislature to follow the court’s ruling to grant marriage rights to Taiwan’s same-sex couples. If they create a separate type of union for same-sex couples, the Constitutional Council may soon find itself with a new legal challenge delaying full equality for gay couples indefinitely.