Mon, May 07, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Human rights not subject to voting

By Chen Fang-ming 陳芳明

Can human rights be decided by public referendum?

The Central Election Commission (CEC) on April 17 passed the initial review of three referendum proposals against same-sex marriage, including whether the right to same-sex marriage should be protected under the law, whether marriage should be defined as exclusively between a man and a woman, and whether the Ministry of Education should implement provisions concerning homosexuality education in the Enforcement Rules for Gender Equity Education Act (性別平等教育法施行細則) at elementary and junior-high school levels.

Surprisingly, these proposals, which obviously contravene the spirit of democracy, passed the commission’s review.

The issue of same-sex marriage, a basic human right, will now be subject to a referendum.

With the passage of the referendum proposals, Taiwanese society will have to start rebuilding its civil rights.

Such a regressive decision might not have come as a surprise under the authoritarian system during the Martial Law era, but now it has happened in a maturing democracy and under the rule of law. It leaves the confusing feeling that Taiwanese are suddenly out of phase with time.

That the CEC would pass such dark proposals is a direct slap in the face to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Everyone remembers how Tsai more than once during her election campaign said: “My name is Tsai Ing-wen and I support marriage equality.”

That statement moved many people who believe in democracy. The president’s opinion was already approved by the public, so in a way, the presidential election was the most open and fair of referendums.

Why should there be another vote? Were Tsai’s pledges just a joke and did she simply deceive voters? Could it really be that the general public is less intelligent than the myopic Alliance of Taiwan Religious Groups for the Protection of the Family?

A presidential election ranks much higher than any referendum. Despite this, the commission has passed proposals that contravene basic human rights as if intentionally creating problems for Tsai. When voters elected her, they endorsed her political views.

During the authoritarian era, gender equality was openly suppressed. Not only were LGBT people stigmatized, but women were also discriminated against in the Civil Code. Taiwanese can finally enjoy gender equality, but marriage equality is still treated with utter contempt.

The commission should be composed of intelligent people, so how can they so quickly forget that Tsai’s pledge was endorsed by voters?

Marriage equality is a basic human right and also an important cornerstone of universal values. Should basic human rights be subject to voting?

If the commission members have a basic understanding of history and democracy, they should know how Taiwanese shook off the dark authoritarian era. Taiwanese must never forget how many LGBT people cried themselves to sleep because of the discrimination they faced.

The democratic way of life enjoyed today was created by all Taiwanese. How can it be that only heterosexuals are now allowed to enjoy this democracy?

Taiwanese are unlikely to forget that the Council of Grand Justices’ constitutional interpretation from May last year declared the Civil Code unconstitutional for its exclusion of same-sex marriage. The interpretation was an endorsement of the Tsai administration, yet the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) continues to equivocate on the issue.

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