Fri, Feb 05, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Activists spar over same-sex marriage referendum

‘SERIOUS AND IRREVERSIBLE’:Same-sex marriage opponents are pushing a referendum on requiring a referendum on legalization before any new legislation

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff Reporter

Same-sex marriage proponents and opponents sparred over a proposed referendum at a Central Election Commission (CEC) hearing yesterday.

The proposed referendum topic would be on a requirement that any legislation changing the definition of marriage, custody, family or family relationships in the Civil Code (民法) be approved in a national referendum before becoming law.

Yesterday’s hearing on referendum wording was called after conservative activists associated with the Faith and Hope League submitted more than 130,000 petition signatures for a proposed referendum aimed at preventing the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Crossing the first 100,000 signature petition drive threshold would potentially move it into a second petition drive phase if its wording is approved.

Activists from both sides packed the CEC’s spacious 100-seat conference room, with a large crowd kept in the building’s lobby for hours because of space limitations.

Faith and Hope League activists said the referendum was necessary to prevent influential legislators from “sneaking through” legalization, creating “serious and irreversible” damage to social mores.

“Lawmaking in Taiwan is extremely rough and careless to the point that the people have lost faith in the legislative process,” league co-chairwoman Joanna Lei (雷倩) said.

The power concentrated in the hands of committee conveners and caucus leaders could be used to quickly hold a vote on the legalization of same-sex marriage before opponents have time to mobilize, she said.

Rumors that legislators were considering “sneaking through” such legislation sparked a massive rally along Katagalan Boulevard in 2013, with a related referendum petition serving as the inspiration for activists’ current drive.

“This referendum is aimed at reducing social costs,” league co-chairman Chen Chih-hung (陳志宏) said.

He said that requiring a referendum before same-sex marriage is legalized would demonstrate whether there is a full “social consensus” on the issue, reducing controversy and protests.

Opponent of the referendum said it would unconstitutionally limit the Legislative Yuan’s power to pass laws.

“These restrictions would apply to nearly the entire family relations section of the Civil Code and would amount to stripping the legislators elected by the people of their lawmaking authority,” said Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女), who was one of the principal sponsors of the 2013 bill.

“Passing laws is part of the Legislative Yuan’s authority — when we amend laws as times change, there is absolutely no requirement that there be a referendum,” she said, adding that referendums were constitutionally intended to supplement — not replace — representative democracy.

“Holding a referendum every time we need to amend articles which are related to marriage and family would be time-consuming and strip the Legislative Yuan of the ability to respond quickly to societal changes,” attorney and women’s rights advocate Lee Yen-jong (李晏榕) said. “Under our constitutional system, direct democracy and indirect democracy are supposed to supplement and complement each other, rather than restraining each other.”

Constitutional concerns were echoed by government official who spoke at the hearing, with officials also saying the broad referendum language was inconsistent with Referendum Act (公民投票法) requirements.

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