During next month’s nine-in-one local elections, the electorate will be asked to vote on various referendums, with three opposing and two supporting same-sex marriage and making gay issues part of the national curriculum. The referendums are polarizing, with supporters lining up on each side of the argument. With only one month left until the polls on Nov. 24, several alarming incidents have occurred.
One incident involved a middle-aged man opposed to LGBTQ rights who allegedly assaulted an LGBTQ advocate campaigning on the street by kissing the volunteer on his mouth and then taunting him, saying: “Look, I can accept two men kissing each other.” Then, the man reportedly verbally assaulted a female volunteer, saying: “With a penis, there is no need to make love with your hands.”
In a second incident, the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association received a letter that said: “The Lord Jesus Christ does not love homosexuals — gays cannot go to heaven, including transgender people” and “All gays, transgenders and other sexual deviants should be killed.”
Such incidents are regrettable, but to be expected. People with homophobic views used to belittle the LGBTQ community as a means of maintaining the dominance of their heterosexual position in society.
However, the Council of Grand Justices last year issued Constitutional Interpretation No. 748, which ruled that the chapter on marriage in the Civil Code is in violation of the Constitution and requested that the government either amend the Civil Code or pass a new law. The ruling touched a raw nerve with some homophobic people and provided the impetus to transform their passive resistance to homosexuals into an active attack against gay marriage.
As a result of the government’s procrastination over amending legislation to provide legal protection for gay marriage, the Internet has become swamped with misleading information about gender equality education.
In addition, the anti-gay marriage movement’s ability to mobilize volunteers and fund its campaigns far outstrips that of the pro-gay marriage movement. Consequently, members of the public are most likely to encounter information from the anti-gay marriage camp.
In the final few weeks leading up to the referendums, it is probable that further harmful or threatening anti-gay or homophobic incidents will occur.
The government needs to get its act together. First, it must revise the Referendum Act (公投法) so that once a proposed referendum meets the required threshold, the government is legally obliged to publicly state its position.
Previously, the Ministry of Education has stated that teaching about gay issues guides students toward understanding and respecting the gay community, and forms an important and indispensable element of gender equality education.
The administration should set out its position on teaching gay issues to counter misleading statements on the Internet such as: “Teaching gay issues will turn students into homosexuals and encourage them to taste the ‘forbidden fruit.’”
As regards gay marriage, the government has been given clear guidance by the Council of Grand Justices. It must therefore issue a formal statement in line with the spirit of the constitutional interpretation, instead of continuing to wrestle with the public over amendments to the law.
The government must also protect the safety of volunteers campaigning on referendum issues and use existing laws to clamp down on any threatening and intimidating behavior to deter similar incidents.
Members of the public must take the initiative to study the issues surrounding the five referendum questions and maintain a healthy skepticism of misleading and provocative information.
For instance, would teaching about gay and gender issues really mean that teachers would be showing students pornographic films in class? Would legalizing gay marriage really lead to heterosexual couples getting divorced and a further decline in the birthrate? It only requires a moment of rational thought to realize that this kind of information is false.
Campaigning in the lead-up to elections and referendums is always lively, but the fiercer the campaigning becomes, the more the public must maintain its calm, stay rational and ensure that it makes the right judgement in the voting booth.
Taiwanese voters must ensure that the well-intentioned Referendum Act is not used as a tool to oppress minority groups.
Yen Cheng-fang is a professor in Kaohsiung Medical University’s psychiatry department.
Translated by Edward Jones
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