On June 26, the US Supreme Court made two major rulings about same-sex marriage.
In the first case, the court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was a violation of the US Constitution because married homosexual couples are entitled to the same federal benefits as married heterosexual couples, including tax, health and retirement benefits.
In the second case, the court ruled that Proposition 8, a voter initiative in California that prohibits gay marriage in the state, was unconstitutional and that supporters of the ban lack the standing to challenge the US District Court’s judgment.
The two landmark rulings are a significant victory for the gay community and US President Barack Obama hailed them immediately, saying that the court “has righted a wrong, and our country is better off for it.”
But looking at gay rights in Taiwan, there is still a long road ahead. On the surface, the annual gay pride parades in big cities in recent years have created the image of a gay-friendly country, yet politicians’ support for gay rights is nothing but empty talk.
In 2003, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) pledged to push for a law to allow gays and lesbians to have families and adopt children, but his administration took no action. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) also pledged to promote gay rights, but his administration has also failed to deliver.
When Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) proposed a draft same-sex marriage law (同性婚姻法) in 2006, the bill was blocked by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆) and other lawmakers. Lai is a close aide of Ma’s. Is the president saying one thing and doing another with regard to gay rights?
In contrast, Obama has contributed greatly to the gay rights movement. In 2011, he stopped defending the 1996 DOMA, concluding that it was “legally indefensible.” Even before the Supreme Court’s recent rulings, Obama expressed his support for gay marriage, becoming the first US president to do so.
“This was discrimination enshrined in law,” Obama said. “We are a people who declared that we are all created equal — and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Ma should take a lesson from his US counterpart. As gay marriage has been increasingly advocated by Obama and many celebrities, there has been a broad shift in public attitudes in the US. Today, most polls show that a majority of Americans support gay marriage. According to an ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted last month, about 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while about 40 percent did not.
In Taiwan, TVBS conducted a poll in April last year and found that 49 percent of Taiwanese support gay marriage and 29 percent do not. Among the respondents, 63 percent of people in their 20s, 52 percent of those in their 30s and 48 percent of those in their 40s supported gay marriage. The figures show gay marriage is now generally accepted by young and middle-aged Taiwanese.
To promote equal rights, the Taiwan Domestic Partner Task Force (台灣伴侶權益推動聯盟) is pushing to amend Part IV: Family and Part V: Succession of the Civil Code (民法親屬編, 繼承編) when the new legislative session begins in September.
Gay rights are human rights! Homosexuals pay taxes, perform military service, and fulfill all their social obligations, just like everybody else. They certainly deserve equal treatment.
Hopefully, the public and all political parties will be inspired by the US rulings, and will support the amendments to realize true equality in Taiwan.
Chang Sheng-en is an assistant professor of English at Shih Hsin University.