Watching her boisterous twin toddlers romp around the living room, Hope Chen said she worries what would happen to them if she ever fell seriously ill or had an accident.
In a worst-case scenario, it should be her partner of seven years who would look after them, Chen said, but they are not both recognized as legal guardians because they are gay and cannot marry.
Chen, 37, gave birth using eggs from her partner, Zoro Wen. She had to travel to Thailand for IVF, which is only allowed in Taiwan for married couples.
“I’m the mother who gave birth, so I’m the only legal parent,” said Chen, 37, from the family’s Taoyuan apartment, where a floor-to-ceiling bookcase includes the title Why do you have two moms?
“For her, even though they have blood relations, she has no parental rights,” Chen said.
Men in an unmarried heterosexual relationship can still gain guardianship of their children through adoption — an option which is also not available to Chen and Wen.
The couple hopes things will soon change as the government debates amendments to the Civil Code that would make Taiwan the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.
However, while support for marriage equality has gained momentum since pro-gay rights President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) came to power in May, so too have resisting voices, revealing a divided society deeply rooted in traditional family values.
Both sides have staged large-scale rallies in the past month, attracting tens of thousands, ahead of a critical second review of three draft bills for marriage equality tomorrow.
The first review last month, held by a parliamentary vetting committee — to decide on one version to put forward to the legislature — ended without consensus as thousands of protesters criticized the lack of public participation in drafting the bills.
“There is now such a high expectation for the dream to be realized. You cannot bring it crashing down, can you?” Yu Mei-nu (尤美女), a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker who proposed one of the bills, said in an interview referring to opponents of reform.
Taiwan is one of the region’s most forward-thinking societies when it comes to gay rights, hosting a gay pride parade that draws tens of thousands every year.
Still, past attempts to legalize same-sex marriage stalled under the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which dominated politics for decades before being unseated by the DPP in this year’s elections.
A recent poll by think tank Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation shows the public is evenly split on the issue.
Mother-of-three Becky Wu, who is the head of a parents’ union of Taipei elementary schools, said she is concerned that changes to the Civil Code would change what she sees as fundamentals in society.
“Our basic morals and concepts, ancestry, grandmother, grandfather, mother, father — all those will disappear,” she said. “It becomes the rights of the minority over the rights of the majority.”
“In the past, kids were taught men and women have sex because they love each other and marry,” she said. “Now they are told love is not a prerequisite and they are free to experiment, either with men or women.”
Religious groups remain the staunchest critics of equal marriage, with an alliance of Buddhist, Taoist and Christian organizations issuing a statement last month warning of destruction to social ethics and traditional family values.
Some opponents suggest a separate new law should be made covering same-sex unions, rather than changing the law to become gender neutral, as is proposed.
However, equal marriage rights advocates said that would lead to segregation, and would not support the rest of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The Civil Code should be made completely gender neutral to cover bisexual and transgender people as well, said Victoria Hsu (許秀雯), a lawyer who leads campaign group Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights.
“Everyone is a citizen, so why can’t we use the civil law to marry?” Hsu said.
For Chen, the lack of legal recognition meant her partner was not allowed into the operating room when she was about to undergo a difficult caesarean section.
It was also a complicated process to list their children as insurance policy beneficiaries to Wen, a doctor who is the main breadwinner in the family, Chen said.
However, to the twins, there is nothing questionable about the difference in their family. They call Chen ma-mi and Wen ah-bi — a family name they conjured.
“They are very clear that other families are ba-ba and ma-ma, while we are ma-mi and ah-bi,” Chen said. “They have naturally accepted that is the way our family is.”
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