In a landmark decision on Friday, Taiwan’s legislature voted to legalise same-sex marriage, paving the way for the self-ruled island to become the first administration in Asia to recognise homosexual partnerships.
From next Friday, gay couples in Taiwan will be able to register their marriages with government agencies.
“It is a historic moment, and a victory for Taiwan,” said Bruce Chu, who campaigned for passage of the bill.
The legislature’s vote in favour of the bill drew thunderous applause from some 40,000 supporters of marriage equality waiting outside the legislature despite heavy rain.
Waving placards describing marriage equality as a universal human right, the supporters shouted thanks to the lawmakers inside.
The change follows an article-by-article review of a government bill widely debated by supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage.
Jennifer Lu, chief coordinator of gay rights group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, said the legislation was not perfect but did meet most of the needs of same-sex couples.
“Taiwan is moving in line with the world’s trend as it echoes the universal call for rights equality,” Lu said. “I believe the disputes over same-sex marriage will soon come to an end. People will find that the day is still bright and the Earth still moves after same-sex people start registering for marriage.”
The legislation grants gay couples most of the rights given to their heterosexual counterparts under the civil code. It also grants one of the partners the right to adopt a child who is a blood relative.
In addition, the authorities will recognise marriage between a Taiwanese citizen and a foreign national if the home country of the foreign national has also legalised same-sex partnerships.
The bill follows a 2017 constitutional court ruling that said laws denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the island’s constitution.
Campaigners on the island say gay couples have long faced discrimination in a range of areas, including not being able to file joint income tax declarations and not being able to give consent for medical care for their partner.
“They don’t need to worry about that any more,” Hsiao Bi-khim, a legislator from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said after the passage of the bill. “After today, there is no need for them to face discriminatory treatment from others.”
President Tsai Ing-wen also hailed the legislation’s passage as a landmark moment, saying it proved that “kindness and conscience” were still a force on the democratic island.
“I congratulate our gay friends for being able to win society’s blessing, and I also want to say thanks to those who have different beliefs” but still offered their support for this law, she said in a Facebook post.
Legalising same-sex marriage fulfils one of Tsai’s campaign promises, but is strongly opposed by conservative and Christian groups.
Opponents of the measure staged protests, some of which ended in violence, and threatened to withdraw support from legislators who back the legislation.
Opposition Kuomintang legislator Lai Shyh-bao and DPP legislator Lin Tai-hua tabled two other versions of the bill, both of which watered down protections for same-sex couples.
Lin’s version even included a clause to allow relatives of a same-sex couple to sue for annulment of the couple’s registered union if they believed the marriage was “fake”. It also stipulated that it would not be discriminatory to oppose same-sex partnerships or teach others that gay marriages were “wrong”.
But both alternative versions failed to make it to a second reading during the legislature review on Friday.
Tseng Hsien-ying, president of the anti-gay marriage Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation, said the legislation violated the results of a referendum late last year in which the electorate voted against recognising same-sex marriages.
“Democracy is dead,” Tseng said. “We will do all we can during the presidential and legislative elections in 2020 to mobilise supporters to vote down [Tsai] and legislators who supported the bill.”