The decriminalization of adultery has been an issue in Taiwan, but experts agree the law would not be abolished due to public opinion that is opposed to a change.
Under the Criminal Code, adultery is a criminal offense punishable by up to one year in prison.
In two surveys conducted by the Ministry of Justice last year, 82.2 and 77.3 percent of respondents said no to decriminalization and only 16.8 percent supported it in the first survey.
In a recent forum, Central Police University law professor Bill Hsu (許福生) said the reason a majority of Taiwanese supported the law was because “people fear betrayal deeply.”
Taiwan High Court Judge Chiu Chun-yi (邱忠義) said he supports the decriminalization of adultery, but considered it an “ultimate goal” not easily achieved in a few years.
“My judicial practice shows an adultery lawsuit filed between a couple does not help the marriage at all. The legal action of filing a suit causes the marriage to end,” Chiu said.
He said if the government wanted people to support adultery’s decriminalization, the Civil Code would be revised to minimize negative impacts of the move, such as alimony payments made by people indicted for adultery.
Prosecutor Chu Fu-mei (朱富美) of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said people who oppose the law argue it is absurd that a marriage could be sustained under the threat of criminal punishment when a couple no longer loved each other, but she said such thinking was “a sense of superiority from intellectuals.”
The law should protect the middle and lower classes. For many of them love or feelings might not be a necessary condition in a marriage, but maintaining the family and economic security were more important, the prosecutor said.
Chu said that family values should be advocated in Taiwan.
Her remarks were echoed by representatives from the Warm Life Association for Women.
The group said prosecution of adulterers was the only way to safeguard the existing family system and protect married women.
However, representatives from the Awakening Foundation disagreed, saying the existence of the law did nothing to help save marriages, instead it hindered a woman’s autonomy.
They challenged the ministry’s poll results, saying the foundation has held forums nationwide in which it found that many people opposed removing adultery from the Criminal Code because they had not given the issue in-depth consideration. After detailed explanation and discussion, many people who originally questioned the measure to remove adultery from the Criminal Code changed their minds and agreed to sign a petition proposed by the foundation.
Kuan Hsiao-wei (官曉薇), an assistant professor of law at National Taipei University, offered evidence that the law contained gender prejudice and violated gender equality. She said an analysis of data provided by district prosecutors’ offices throughout the nation from 2008 to 2012 showed a statistically significant gender difference in the handling of adultery cases during investigations and trials.
The figures showed that the sentences handed down in adultery cases went against women 54 percent of the time compared with 45 percent for men, Kuan said, adding that the inequality warranted an immediate legal review of the rules.
“A society that is more willing to forgive husbands’ affairs, but intends to punish wives’ affairs, contributes to gender discrepancy in the legal practice,” she said.