At a cake shop they run in Taipei, Shane Lin and Marc Yuan are planning their wedding as they await Asia’s first gay marriage law, but a last-minute push could scupper their dreams.
The pair, who met at college, are among hundreds of same-sex couples who have made reservations to register with government agencies on Friday next week for what they hope will be a marriage.
That is the deadline set by the Council of Grand Justices to allow same-sex couples to legally wed.
Photo: SAM YEH, AFP
In a 2017 ruling, judges said that denying gay couples the right to marry violated the Constitution. The court gave lawmakers two years to make marriage equality happen or see it enacted automatically if they failed — a move that promises a new milestone for Asia.
For gay couples like Lin, 31, and Yuan, 30 — who decided to tie the knot as they celebrated their 10th anniversary — the ruling allowed them to start planning for their big day.
“Taiwan may often be overlooked internationally, but the things we have done are visionary and with purpose, which we can be proud of,” said Lin, referring to the ruling.
Yet with a week to go, Taiwan’s LGBT community still does not know what marriage equality would look like, because the legislation has yet to be conclusively decided.
Gay rights groups hoped that the government would simply amend the Civil Code’s marriage clauses to include homosexual couples, a move they said would grant the truest form of equality.
However, President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) dithered for months after the ruling, tabling no proposed law or changes.
Opponents of the ruling organized a series of referendums in November last year, in which people comprehensively rejected defining marriage as anything other than a union between a man and a woman, weakening the government’s legislative hand.
The fight for same-sex marriage has finally landed in the legislature where three rival bills are to be voted on today, just a week before the deadline.
The most progressive bill — which most gay rights groups have begrudgingly backed — is the government’s. It is the only one to use the word “marriage” and offer some limited adoption rights.
Opponents have tabled two other versions that avoid the word marriage and offer something closer to same-sex unions with no adoption rights. One version even enabled close relatives to legally challenge a union, although that clause was withdrawn earlier this week following an outcry.
“When it comes to equality and human rights, everyone should be the same. Why should our marriage be given a different name?” Lin asked.
The DPP holds a comfortable majority, but no one knows which way the voting will go, especially given elections are just eight months away.
On Tuesday, Tsai urged people to back her government’s bill, saying it respected both the court’s judgement and the results of the referendums.
Lesbian couple Huang Ting-yu and Hsueh Ya-chieh, from New Taipei City, fear that the fight for equal rights will stumble if the Cabinet’s bill fails.
“You will have more problems in life when you don’t have your basic rights. That’s why in same-sex marriage, we are striving for equality and the same rights as everyone else,” Huang said.
The couple, both engineers aged 28, got together shortly after the 2017 ruling. They agreed to marry six months later.
They plan to register on Friday next week and host a banquet in September.
For Lin and Yuan, adoption and surrogacy are also pressing issues. They hope to have one biological child and one adopted child.
“We hope that Taiwan can quickly enact a law to allow surrogacy. Another thing which is most important is that we can have the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples in adoption,” Lin said.
The government’s bill only allows gay couples to adopt the biological children of their partner. The other bills only grant limited guardianship rights for existing children.
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