There has been yet another suicide in Greater Tainan, by a young man. This young man was gay. He was also one of us, and the news brings both pain and recrimination.
He was not known to me personally, and his full name was not reported. The young gay man who took his own life had a partner of five years, but the family of neither could ever find it in themselves to understand their relationship, or accept it. At work, he was subjected to ridicule and prejudice, making him lose all hope for life. It got to the point where he would rather end his life than continue suffer the prejudice. According to a report by Columbia University, homosexual people are five times more likely to commit suicide than straight people.
We are all human beings. We all call Taiwan home. Why is it that the straight among us enjoy the various guarantees in the law through marriage, while those of other sexual orientations — who are citizens, too — are denied the right to openly and freely express their love by traditionalists and conservatives, and especially respected members of the clergy, who would openly shame them? Gay and lesbian people are members of our community, too: They are our brothers and sisters, our children. Every one of these suicides, people who took their own lives because they were denied the understanding of society and the acceptance of their families, are freedom fighters, are champions of the struggle for human rights. Everyone in this country, in the community — and I include myself in this — are potentially culpable for their deaths.
I was once a political prisoner, so I understand this tragic situation all too well. At the time of the 228 Massacre, covert units within the state apparatus embarked on a thorough, merciless vilification of those who had opposed the authorities, so that they were disowned and feared by the wider society as well as by their own families. The actions of many courageous people who opposed the authorities back then have been covered up by their families out of fear or shame, and remain unknown even today. These are the forgotten heroes of the 228 Massacre, and now their stories will never be told.
In the nationalist enmity that followed the 228 Massacre, many Taiwanese prohibited their daughters from marrying into the families of those who came over to Taiwan from China after the war. If these couples wanted to marry, they were forced to rely on the guarantees afforded them by the law, eloping in pursuit of happiness, escaping from their families. Over time, attitudes changed and the situation gradually improved. Homosexuals, however, remain excluded from these developments. Even now, they do not even have the option of eloping to find happiness.
Last Sunday more gatherings were organized by traditionalists and churches, opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage. Is it right that these people can themselves enjoy the freedom of expression, and use this freedom to rob others of their basic human rights? How should we react to the preacher who on the one hand said that we should be inclusive as God loves us all the same, and that eating dog meat was no mortal sin, and yet on the other demeans and demonizes homosexuals? Should we relent?
It is fine for individual societies, religions and families to have their own special values and beliefs. However, the idea that all people are equal before the law has long been accepted as an unassailable universal human value, and a cornerstone of the state. Homosexuals have suffered prejudice and demonization for centuries, but the law should put an end to this prejudice in our time. The time has arrived.
Legislation for the rights of homosexuals is now sitting in the legislature, waiting to be added to the roster. There is already a consensus within Taiwan supporting same sex marriage. In a China Times opinion poll published in August 2012, 56 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriage, while 31 percent opposed it. In September of that same year, a survey conducted by the United Daily News showed similar results, with 55 percent and 37 percent respectively. In April last year a study carried out by Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology showed that 52.5 percent of respondents were in favor of same-sex marriage, compared with 30 percent against. These figures show that support for same-sex marriage was stronger than support for either former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) or incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in the years that they were elected.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井) convenes the legislature’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee. Fellow KMT Legislator Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟) sits on that committee too. I implore both of them to see to it that this piece of legislation finds its way onto the roster. In so doing, they could help consign this example of oppression and prejudice to history. At the very least, it will enable the issue to be openly debated. I ask them to not allow this prejudice to continue, to put an end to this tragic situation.
Shih Ming-te is chairman of the Shih Ming-te Foundation and a former Democratic Progressive Party chairman. He resigned from the DPP in November 2000.
Translated by Paul Cooper