Mon, Jun 12, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Marriage equality unites the nation

By Eddy Chang 張聖恩

Taiwan witnessed history on May 24 as the Council of Grand Justices issued Constitutional Interpretation No. 748, declaring it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry on the basis of the Civil Code.

This was a milestone in the nation’s gay rights movement, and the decision will change many people’s lives.

The landmark ruling handed a long-deserved victory to the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, who have fought for equal rights since the mid-1980s. Hundreds of LGBT people cheered, hugged and even wept at a rally when the ruling was announced. To them, it must have felt like a breath of fresh air.

“Taiwan has just enacted true gender equality,” gay rights pioneer Chi Chia-wei (祁家威) later told the media. “It means I can die without regret,” the petitioner for the constitutional interpretation said.

Chi praised the dedication of the LGBT community while encouraging supporters to forgive and keep communicating with the opponents of same-sex marriage.

The constitutional ruling paves the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage. On the high ground of human rights, the grand justices declared that the Civil Code’s denial of such unions is in violation of both people’s “right to equality” as guaranteed by Article 7 of the Constitution and “freedom of marriage” as protected by Article 22.

“All citizens of the Republic of China, irrespective of sex, religion, race, class or party affiliation shall be equal before the law,” Article 7 says.

The justices said that the five classifications of impermissible discrimination set forth in the article are only exemplified, not enumerated nor exhaustive.

“Therefore, different treatment based on other classifications, such as sexual orientation, shall also be governed by the right to equality,” the ruling said.

The justices also said that people eligible to marry have the freedom to do so, including the freedom to decide whether to marry and whom to marry.

“Such decisional autonomy is vital to the sound development of personality and safeguarding of human dignity, and therefore is a fundamental right to be protected by Article 22,” the ruling said.

Specifically, it said that this will not affect heterosexuals’ marriage rights, nor will it disrupt social order established upon the existing marriage system.

Rather, same-sex marriage will “constitute the collective basis, together with opposite-sex marriage, for a stable society,” the ruling said.

Yet when the announcement was made, some protesters did not agree. “Unfair procedure! Invalid interpretation!” they shouted outside the Judicial Yuan.

While threatening to make another referendum attempt on the issue, they argued that since the grand justices were not elected by the public, they should not have the power to make the decision in place of the Legislative Yuan.

However, this exposed their ignorance of the Constitution — the highest level of law, above the Referendum Act (公投法) — not to mention the rejection last year of their referendum bid by the Referendum Review Committee with an embarrassing 10-to-one vote.

Meanwhile, the ruling is expected to accelerate the legislative process and improve the overall social attitude toward LGBT people.

First, the ruling said that the authorities must amend or enact relevant laws within two years. If they fail to do so, same-sex couples will be allowed to have their marriages effectuated directly at household registration offices.

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