Taiwan does not have a sodomy law in its Criminal Code, the criminal system discriminates against LGBT people in a more subtle way through law enforcement practices or in the judicial process. The Civil Code does not explicitly stipulate only men and women can marry each other, but because of administrative orders and practices, not a single gay couple is registered married here.
Not all LGBT people will run into police in their lives, not all the LGBT people want to get married and the institution of marriage in Taiwan is far from equal, never mind perfect. However, laws and the legal system continue to send out messages: Some can and are encouraged to get married and some can not; some are systematically given more trouble than others. That communicates a message implying that LGBT people are socially inferior.
That implies that some of us are less deserving of legal protection, and that some of us are not deserving of it at all. It is not a question of public referendum as some religious groups and legislators have suggested. The fundamental right to the personal development (which includes gender self-determination) of any marginalized group of people cannot be voted out by majority. Imagine if today the majority of Taiwanese wanted to vote for a ban on all religions except Buddhism or Taoism.
No matter which viewpoint one holds about the law and the legal system, the legal system should at least pretend it applies equally to all, even if it does not truly embrace this ideal.
I listened to the Shepards’ talks in Taiwan twice. One time was at my university with my students, and one was at the American Institute in Taiwan to mostly gender-friendly non-governmental organization activists and teachers. I was deeply moved by their devotion to the LGBT community. Most people run away from pain, but Judy and Dennis embrace their pain and by speaking of their great loss and hopes to advance the acceptance of LGBT people in family and society in general, they demonstrate to us their extraordinary will, their endless love for their son and the power of words, of stories.
Taiwan is at a crossroads where we will decide if we want to be a country under the rule of law. Let us re-examine the current law and legal system that mistreats LGBT people and try to prevent all the potential tragic stories from happening and go back to the ideal of rule of law, the constitutional protection of basic rights, and maybe in the future, we can create more stories with happy endings.
Chen Yi-chien is an associate professor and director of the Graduate Institute for Gender Studies at Shih Hsin University.