Veteran gay rights activist Chi Chia-wei (祁家威) yesterday filed an application for a constitutional review of the nation’s marriage laws, his second time doing so in his 30-year campaign for the right to marry his partner.
Chi’s application came on the heels of a stalled legislative review on Monday of a bill that aims to legalize same-sex marriage, which saw opposing rallies clash outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei while the issue was debated inside.
Backed by more than a dozen lawyers, as well as activists from the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), Chi said that the laws that bar same-sex couples from marrying are a violation of their constitutional rights.
Photo: David Chang, EPA
With the legislature controlled by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), gay rights advocates say that the legislative path toward legalizing same-sex marriage remains difficult, while the judicial path might provide a viable alternative.
As one of the first openly gay social activists during the Martial Law era, Chi was arrested in 1986 when he filed a petition to the legislature demanding same-sex marriage be legalized, which led to him being imprisoned for five months.
Between 1998 and 2000, Chi went through multiple failed attempts to seek legal recognition for same-sex marriage, leading to his first application for a constitutional review.
Chi’s 2000 application was stalled indefinitely by the Grand Council of Justices and never went through a thorough review, he said.
More than a decade later, Chi and his partner tried to register as a married couple again in March last year, after a campaign to seek the recognition of another gay couple — Chen Ching-hsueh (陳敬學) and Kao Chih-wei (高治偉) — was halted abruptly, following reported death threats to their family members.
After local government agencies refused to register his partnership as a marriage, Chi fought his way through successive levels in court.
The attempt ultimately ended in failure in September, when the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that according to the Civil Code, marriage should be between a man and a woman.
“At the time [in 2000], I stood alone in battle, but I’m glad that more than 10 lawyers are willing to come forward and aid me in my application for a constitutional review today,” Chi said, holding back tears. “I am deeply grateful, and I would like to express my respect.”
In a spontaneous gesture to express his gratitude, Chi kneeled on the ground before the volunteer lawyers, before being swiftly pulled up.
Chi expressed his disappointment over remarks made by the Ministry of Justice and anti-gay marriage legislators during the legislative meeting on Monday.
“Medical evidence has already proved that gays and lesbians are not abnormal people, but we still have a group of homophobic officials and legislators that treat homosexuality like a disease,” Chi said. “[Their actions] have obstructed homosexuals in the pursuit of their own happiness.”
TAPCPR president Victoria Hsu (許秀雯) said constitutional review applications usually have no fixed timetable, while prospects also remain unclear on whether the Marriage Equality Amendment would resume its review at the legislature during the next legislative session, which is to begin in February.
Hsu said the group plans to demand candidates in the 2016 presidential election profess their stance on gay marriage, saying that the issue has garnered enough attention to create a significant impact on public debate.
Alliance members said that according to several recent opinion polls, more than 50 percent of Taiwanese back same-sex marriage, while more than 80 percent of young people aged between 20 and 29 are supportive of the cause.
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