Rights not from the West
The struggle in Taiwan over same-sex marriage is by far the most significant struggle in the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the non-Western world.
For the first time ever, a serious debate is unfolding in the context of a non-Western country, not just about tolerance and decriminalization of sexual behaviors (as has largely been the case in other non-Western societies such as India), but about the acceptance of LGBT people as citizens with equal rights.
The importance of this development cannot be understated.
Up to now, the battles over LGBT rights have largely transpired in Western nations, which has drawn accusations from elements in the non-Western world that LGBT rights are Western products and have no place in non-Western societies. The differences in the response to LGBT rights have increasingly become the dividing line between the West and the rest of the world.
Taiwan is the non-Western country that leads the way in challenging this misconception. With its tolerance of LGBT people and with the same-sex marriage debate, it has shown that LGBT rights are not only for Westerners. This is why the significance of the battle over the proposed same-sex marriage bill goes beyond the nation’s borders and is so crucial for LGBT people in repressive places in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.
The potential success of the same-sex marriage bill will not suddenly change anti-LGBT laws elsewhere, but it will hopefully start the process of debunking the myth that has portrayed LGBT rights as “Western immorality,” which has been used to violently repress people in many non-Western societies.
The non-Western LGBT rights activists outside of Taiwan watch in great suspense as the saga unfolds and wish the activists for marriage equality success in their struggle.
Leave decisions to people
Why do so many people continue to have the urge to tell other people who they can or cannot live with?
The religious bigots came out in full force to tell same-sex couples that they cannot be legally married (“Rally against same-sex marriage held,” Dec. 1, page 1).
Then there was a big fuss about whether the Cairo Declaration has any legally binding significance for the nation’s international status (“Cairo Declaration as legal basis incorrect: advocates,” Dec. 2, page 3; “Declaration lacks legal power,” Dec. 5, page 8).
If people want to live together, no matter whether they are one woman and one man, two men, two women, two hermaphrodites or from opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait, they should be able to. And if they do not want to live together, they should also be free to do so.
The will of the people who are affected should be the only criterion — not anybody else’s opinion, whether an individual’s or a state’s.
It was not so long ago that in many parts of the world a woman could be married off or divorced without their consent (tragically, this still continues in some parts of the world).
Luckily, this anachronistic suppression of women’s wills has now mostly stopped. All over the world, the movement is toward letting gay people decide for themselves whether they want to live with somebody without interference from people who should have no say in the matter.
However, the final liberation will be to let people choose which nation they want to live in.
No modern concept is more anachronistic than the sovereignty of a state over its people. Just like the outdated concept of the ever-growing economy, the concept of the modern state was pulled out of a hat in the 19th century.
Imperialist states would draw border lines haphazardly across Africa, Asia and the Americas, cutting continents up like a cake to be consumed.
Never mind that those “cakes” were home to people who did not like each other, such as the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, Christians and Muslims in Nigeria or, closer to home, Chinese, Uighur Muslims and Tibetans in China.
This outdated concept continues to bring misery. The people of the Western Sahara, Palestinians and Taiwanese share the desire to live in a state not controlled by outsiders. If two nations want to marry, let them: like East and West Germany. If two countries want to divorce, let them: like the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
No dusty old treaties should determine where Taiwanese live — the people should decide. If the nation wishes to marry China, OK.
However, if Taiwanese decide not to, then China and the world should accept that the only sovereign over the nation is its people.