Not long ago, there were media reports of disputes over pin jin (聘金), betrothal money presented to the family of a bride-to-be at the engagement ceremony.
I have also seen in real life and online how couples break up due to a different understanding of betrothal money or after failing to agree on the amount.
Even in this era of gender equality, the issue still affects wedding preparations.
Offering betrothal money is not exclusive to Taiwan. US anthropologist George Murdock in 1967 published a database on marriage in 1,167 preindustrial societies, showing that the custom existed in two-thirds of the societies.
The custom mainly originated from the payment given by the groom’s side to the bride’s side in exchange for her work and fertility in an agricultural society, including producing children, bringing offerings to gods and ancestors, and doing housework.
The amount was often a financial burden for families.
Taiwan used to be an agricultural society, in which betrothal money was a key part of a marriage proposal, but the social economy and gender awareness have changed.
Many people consider marriage a shared responsibility and expect the two parties to be treated equally. They no longer accept presenting betrothal money, which turns marriage into a business deal.
However, some people subconsciously adhere to traditional thinking and give gifts of money to the bride’s parents, as a thank you for how they raised their daughter and as a sign of their expectation that the bride fulfill her “obligations,” such as producing children and doing housework.
The Cabinet’s proposed bill on same-sex marriage — “the enforcement act of Judicial Yuan Constitutional Interpretation No. 748” (司法院釋字第748號解釋施行法) — is based on rules for heterosexual marriage in the Civil Code’s Family Chapter.
In refashioning the rules for same-sex couples, the bill downplays the traditional concept of marriage and its expectation of fixed roles.
Unlike husbands and wives in heterosexual marriages, whose roles have been scripted, same-sex couples could forge marriages with equal, flexible roles.
From the location of the couple’s residence to the selection of their children’s surname and given name to the distribution of housework and the worship of gods and ancestors, they can rely on equality and negotiation, as each tries to craft a win-win situation.
The draft act not only provides a legal basis for protecting the rights of same-sex unions, but also liberates husbands and wives who have been oppressed by societal expectations of their roles in the heterosexual marriage system.
Same-sex marriage can serve as an example, showing that each partner in a marriage does not need to play a fixed role, and that a marriage does not need to center on a specific gender.
All is beneficial when the parties living together reach an agreement through equal negotiation.
The realization of same-sex marriage and its example is likely to spark the imagination of heterosexual couples in terms of gender equality.
This will give husbands and wives a chance to free themselves of traditional gender roles and enjoy a more equal and comfortable married life. As such a win-win situation for society, why would anyone oppose it?
Wu Tsui-sung is a professor at National United University’s Institute of Hakka Language and Communication.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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