Mon, Aug 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Same-sex marriage activists face an uphill climb ahead of gay rights referendums

In the run-up to the three gay rights referendum proposals, pro-marriage equality activists face difficulties mobilizing support

By Catherine Lin  /  Contributing reporter

In the wake of the US Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage in 2015, the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights stages a demonstration to advocate for marriage equality.

Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights

As tens of thousands cheered in May last year when the same-sex marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional, Jennifer Lu (呂欣潔) knew that the battle was far from over.

“I didn’t feel happy or excited because we still needed to go back to the legislature and make them pass the bill we want,” says Lu, who is coordinator of the Marriage Equality Coalition (MEC). “The ruling was an amazing moment for the LGBT movement in Taiwan, but as a leader of the campaign, I was quite worried about people losing their motivation to continue.”

Lu’s concerns have proved prescient. The Council of Grand Justices gave the legislature two years to legalize same-sex marriage — either to amend the Civil Code’s gendered language, as LGBTQ activists prefer, or to create a separate same-sex civil partnership law.

However, in April, the Central Election Commission approved three referendum proposals from anti-LGBTQ organizations that, if passed, could create a separate law for same-sex couples, restrict the definition of marriage in the Civil Code to unions between men and women and eliminate education about homosexuality for younger students.

Creating a law specifically for same-sex couples rather than removing gendered language from the Civil Code would deny gay people the title of “marriage,” implying that it is distinct from heterosexual partnerships. If the separate law is not identical to the Civil Code, activists fear they will need years of additional litigation to achieve the same rights.

As anti-LGBTQ organizations rush to gather the 281,745 signatures needed by the end of this month for the proposals to coincide with the November municipal elections, marriage equality activists face difficulties mobilizing opposition.

LOW ‘CRISIS AWARENESS’

Paowuchien (拋物線), a pseudonym for founder of LGBTQ organization Rainbow Boulevard, says “people lack crisis awareness.”

Paowuchien cites as an example a gay cafe owner with whom she wanted to collaborate to petition the government to revise the Civil Code.

“Why do we have to do this? Hasn’t it already passed?” he asked her.

Huang Hsin-yi (黃馨儀), a MEC volunteer, says momentum remains low.

“People are waiting to get married, and people think, ‘Yes, we can get married already,’” Huang says.

LGBTQ activists contrast the lack of awareness with a strong anti-gay movement that lobbies politicians effectively.

“Gay people are not visible. You don’t know where they are,” Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights secretary-general Chien Chih-chieh (簡至潔) says. “Churches are well-organized, gay people are not. Churches give campaign donations, gay people don’t.”

Chien sees this vocal opposition as one source of legislators’ reluctance to openly support amending the Civil Code, with most maintaining neutrality in the lead-up to the referendum — and the municipal elections. It’s also why same-sex marriage activists are annoyed that Premier William Lai (賴清德) continues to drag his feet in drafting a same-sex marriage proposal, even though he promised one by the end of last year.

Indeed, there was a campaign last year to recall New Power Party (NPP) Executive Chairman Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) after he voiced support for same-sex marriage. Though it failed, 48,693 constituents voted in favor of recalling Huang, while less than half that number — 21,748 — voted against it. Huang’s detractors needed to cast at least 63,888 “yes” votes.

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