Although most people take getting married and renting a house or office space for granted, it might not be so easy for gays and lesbians, activists said at a forum yesterday as they called on the government to adopt bills protecting homosexuals’ rights without delay.
“It’s been 10 years since the first gay marriage was held in public in Taipei, and we’ve taken to the streets to promote gay and lesbian rights several times over the past decade,” Wang Ping (王蘋), secretary-general of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association in Taiwan, said at the forum on gay rights held in Taipei yesterday.
“Sadly, not much progress has been made in terms of legal rights for gays and lesbians,” Wang said.
Although marriage is not a requirement for having a relationship, it is an important element in the current family-oriented welfare system, she said.
For example, she said, married couples receive tax breaks and better mortgage rates, and are entitled to collect each other’s labor insurance payments or share common property.
“A human rights bill proposed eight years ago by [former president] Chen Shui-bian [陳水扁] still hasn’t passed the Cabinet review, and when we asked [President] Ma Ying-jeou’s [馬英九] government about it, officials answered that they were still studying it,” Wang said.
Wang proposed three ways in which legal rights may be granted to same-sex couples.
“First, the term ‘husband and wife’ in the Civil Code [民法] may be changed to ‘spouses.’ Second, pass a bill to legalize same-sex marriage — which has actually been done in many countries,” she said. “Or at least you can adopt a bill to grant rights originally reserved for married couples to couples in cohabitation.”
Besides not being able to get married, homosexuals said they were also living with constant discrimination in Taiwan.
Gay and Lesbian Couples Association (GLCA) founder Nelson Chen (陳敬學) said he has faced his share of discrimination.
“For everybody else to rent an office, you only need to find the place, sign the contract and pay the rent — but that’s not at all the case for the GLCA,” he said.
He found a suitable office space at an “international business center” in Taipei in August and clearly told the center’s manager what his organization is all about.
He said he paid two months’ rent and a deposit of double the monthly rent right away after reaching a deal with the manager.
But a few days later, the manager told him that he could not rent the office space because his superior thought the place was “not suitable for a gay rights organization,” he said.
He then went to a real estate agent, who found him another place.
“Again, a few days later, the agent came back to tell us that the owner didn’t want to rent his house to a gay rights organization because he was ‘worried that neighbors may not find it acceptable,’” he said.
“Discrimination and prejudice are everywhere in this society,” he said. “But we are here nevertheless. The government has to protect our basic human rights.”