Sun, Apr 02, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taipei Watcher: After the historic debate, what’s next?

The Council of Grand Justices held a historic debate over the marriage equality issue, and the justice minister came under fire for spewing nonsense

By Eddy Chang  /  Staff reporter

Judicial Yuan President Hsu Tzong-li, center, presides over the constitutional debate on the marriage equality issue at the Constitutional Court on March 24.

Photo: Huang Yao-cheng, Taipei Times

On March 24, the Council of Grand Justices held a historic debate for a constitutional interpretation regarding petitions submitted by gay rights pioneer Chi Chia-wei (祁家威) and the Taipei City Government on the issue of same-sex marriage. Since Taiwan is the first Asian country to approve a constitutional interpretation on the issue, it attracted attention at home and abroad.

Several legal professionals and government officials, among others, expressed their opinions to the Grand Justices on whether the recognition of marriage should only be between a “man and a woman,” as stipulated in the Civil Code (民法). A ruling is expected within a month.

Chi, who first attempted to file a similar petition in 1986, said that a constitutional interpretation in support of same-sex marriage is likely to hasten the legislation process. Yet even before the debate, there were troubling signs both at the legislature and within the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) that support for same-sex marriage might be dwindling.

MINISTER UNDER FIRE

During the debate, Minister of Justice Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) raised eyebrows when he stated that marriage equality might ruin the institution of marriage.

“Has there ever been a cultural institution or social phenomenon for same-sex marriage in the thousands of years of our country’s history?” he asked, displaying an astonishing ignorance of the issue.

Chiu pledged to safeguard the thousands-year-old tradition, while describing same-sex relationships as a “phenomenon newly invented in the 1970s.”

Chiu claimed that legalizing same-sex marriage would destroy a number of traditional cultural and ritual practices, citing “ancestral tablets” for deceased fathers and mothers as an example.

“What are we going to write [for same-sex couples] on the ancestral tablets once same-sex marriage is legalized?” he asked the panel.

Ancestral tablets, of course, are not the issue. But by linking non-legal issues to the amendments to the Civil Code, Chiu exposed his ignorance of the key point: protection of equal rights. In spite of his role as justice minister, he sounded like a spokesman for the Alliance of Taiwan Religious Groups for the Protection of the Family (Family Alliance, 護家盟), an anti-gay organization.

Responding to public criticism, Premier Lin Chuan (林全) said that the minister’s remarks “do not represent the Executive Yuan.”

The justice ministry’s attitude toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people was also revealed by a leaked report. According to news outlet Up Media (上報), the ministry issued an internal report that suggested a “special law” (專法) for same-sex couples, instead of amending the Civil Code, so as to avoid potential political risks.

Despite the growing support for marriage equality in recent years, the ministry’s report suggests a same-sex partnership act until “social consensus is reached.”

WORRYING SIGNS

Meanwhile, there are indications that the government may be adjusting its stance. Tsai recently received representatives from 22 religious groups at the Presidential Office. When some representatives expressed opposition to the draft amendments, Tsai reportedly said, “[I’m] a little surprised. I didn’t expect the legislation to be so urgent and cause such an uproar.” Her statement was seen by LGBT people as a compromise with religious forces.

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