Same-sex marriage cannot wait

By Chen Fang-ming 陳芳明  / 

Mon, Nov 06, 2017 - Page 6

Many Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters are disappointed that the DPP has not put same-sex marriage legislation on its priority list for this legislative session.

During former premier Lin Chuan’s (林全) term, he focused only on the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, while completely setting aside the same-sex marriage issue.

As it seemed like President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was about to break her election pledge, Premier William Lai (賴清德) responded to the 15th Taiwan lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride parade, which attracted more than 120,000 participants, saying that the Cabinet will seek to build the greatest social consensus possible and that it will not give up on proposing a draft act to the legislature for review by the end of this legislative session, to implement marriage equality.

Lai also wrote on Facebook that “I support the idea that people who love each other should have the right to be together.”

It was the first time a premier clearly expressed government support for same-sex marriage.

The Council of Grand Justices’ constitutional interpretation in support of same-sex marriage earlier this year has elevated Taiwan’s position in Asia. Whether the legislature is willing to comply with the constitutional interpretation remains to be seen.

In particular, pro-LGBT New Power Party Executive Chairman Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) is facing a recall vote next month initiated by people opposed to his support for same-sex marriage, and the results of that vote will affect not only himself, but also others, as DPP lawmakers are looking out for any possible domino effect.

DPP lawmakers are good at building connections in their electoral districts and they know which way the wind is blowing. Whether they will unite behind support for same-sex marriage at this critical moment or pay more attention to voter concerns deserves close observation. This is the best chance Taiwan will ever have to legalize same-sex marriage, and second chances are hard to come by.

National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶) has also stated in public that the Cabinet will submit a draft same-sex marriage act to the Legislative Yuan during this legislative session, although the draft is still being discussed.

For LGBT advocates, this seems like the light at the end of the tunnel, but they should not be too optimistic: Next year’s nine-in-one local elections are just around the corner. Once the election battle begins, the draft might be set aside again.

The constitutional interpretation on May 24 brought unprecedented joy to Taiwanese society. However, the joy lasted for just a while, before the DPP started acting like a dormant volcano, doing nothing.

Some DPP politicians suggested amending the Civil Code directly, while others suggested a special act exclusively for same-sex couples. As they failed to reach an agreement inside the party, public expectations remained unfulfilled.

In November last year, about 600 lawyers cosigned a petition in support of direct amendments to the Civil Code, perhaps a result of Tsai’s election pledge, as she said in public that “I am Tsai Ing-wen, and I support marriage equality,” a statement that touched many voters.

She was able to attract so many votes because she dispelled the fog of history, and showed a clear and definite path for Taiwanese society, as well as a display of magnitude and moral high ground that outshone the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate.

The DPP should not forget the public’s wish and its lawmakers would be opportunists if they hesitate to take action now. Since this force was brought on by Tsai, her party should give a clear and loud answer.

The legalization of same-sex marriage will not only relieve internal tension in Taiwanese society, it will also substantially raise the nation’s visibility in the international community.

At a time when Taiwanese indulge in talk about “transitional justice,” they should also think about couples who have been deprived of their civil rights. Many LGBT people have committed suicide due to heartless laws that have left them no space in society.

Taiwanese society will not be healthy as long as people looking for love are forced to hide in the dark and couples are discriminated against by the system. The premier’s public commitment could serve as a turning point and the minister’s public statement was a rare sign of commitment.

This year has been critical for marriage equality and it was not a joke when more than 120,000 people took to the streets in the Pride parade. Tsai and Lai should step forward and make history.

Chen Fang-ming is a professor at National Chengchi University’s Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature.

Translated by Eddy Chang