While the voice of the people is an essential pillar of democracy, Premier William Lai’s (賴清德) remarks on Tuesday about the Executive Yuan’s seemingly intentional delay in proposing a bill to legalize same-sex marriage sounded more like an attempt to shun political responsibility than to respect public opinion.
When responding to questions from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Jason Hsu (許毓仁) on when the Executive Yuan plans to put forward its own bill on marriage equality, Lai said that the Cabinet would first take into account the results of LGBT-related referendums.
“The public is fiercely divided on the issue of marriage equality. As the issue is to be voted on in the form of referendums, the Executive Yuan will carefully factor in those results,” Lai said.
His response might seem reasonable on the surface, but considering the events of the past two years, it is evident that it is not the case.
Although previous legislative attempts to make Taiwan the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex unions were to no avail, hopes were renewed after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) — who threw her support behind marriage equality during her presidential campaign — and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won a legislative majority in the 2016 elections.
In late 2016, two DPP-spearheaded bills designed to legalize same-sex marriage passed their first readings amid a heated debate over whether gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples through changes to the Civil Code, or having such unions governed by a separate law due to the “different nature of their partnership.”
That was a good opportunity for the Executive Yuan to take a stance and draft its own bill. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and the two bills were shelved pending cross-party negotiations.
The Executive Yuan’s inaction fueled speculation that the Tsai administration was dragging its feet on legalization, fearing lost support among traditionally pan-green constituencies, where voters are less open to the idea of two people of the same gender tying the knot.
That might explain why the Cabinet refused to draft its own bill, even with the backing of the Council of Grand Justices, which in May last year ruled that laws preventing same-sex unions were unconstitutional and the law should be amended within two years.
Lai last year promised that a bill would be put forward before this year, but that also did not happen.
Rather than demonstrating the kind of determination it showed when trying to implement much-needed pension reforms when it came to deciding whether gay couples deserve “true equality,” the administration is letting the often bigotry-guided public decide the fate of a minority that has suffered enough discrimination and hate speech.
What is more concerning is that after 19.8 million eligible referendum voters decide, during the nine-in-one elections, the way they want same-sex marriage to be legalized — amending the Civil Code or enacting a separate law — the government has less than six months to push through legislation before the two-year deadline set by the grand justices.
Just imagine what it would be like to compress the years of fight, conflict and chaos of the effort to legalize same-sex marriage into just six-months. It is not going to be pretty and might still end up fulfilling the Tsai administration’s worst fear — losing the votes of once-loyal supporters.
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