Wednesday last week was a great day for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Taiwan.
The Council of Grand Justices ruled that the Civil Code violates constitutional guarantees of freedom of marriage and equality.
The council required the legislature to amend the Civil Code or establish laws addressing gay couples’ rights within two years.
Amid the celebrations, a reality check is needed. The sad fact is that Taiwanese politicians have failed on the matter. Consequently, same-sex marriage is unlikely to be introduced before the legislative session ends on Wednesday. No further progress can be made before the new session starts in September.
Some politicians were on the road to approving same-sex marriage in the autumn of last year and it was hoped that new legislation would be in force by this year summer.
Even the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) allowed its politicians to vote freely on the matter. Equal marriage rights could have been passed in the current legislative session, but unfortunately momentum stalled in the autumn, due to pressure from some religious groups and moral issues in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Also, once the Taipei City Government and gay rights advocate Chi Chia-wei (祁家威) had filed suit, it became convenient to wait for a court ruling.
Moreover, politicians in the DPP had begun to worry about a legislative amendment’s possible impact on next year’s local elections.
The DPP is split on the same-sex marriage issue, despite President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) campaign promises.
The ruling is convenient for politicians in both the DPP and KMT. Now they can avoid taking a moral stance in favor of the issue.
Handily, they can now use the ruling to abdicate their responsibility to face down opposition from conservative religious and moral groups.
In contrast to old political parties, the New Power Party (NPP) has been consistent on gay rights before and after last year’s elections. The NPP fully supports marriage equality.
The DPP has to move fast to avoid losing more credibility on the matter. It cannot let this drag on, as young people, civil society and the NPP will pressure the DPP.
According to some sources, an amendment of the Civil Code would be the best option, because the constitutionality of a new and separate law could be questioned.
Moreover, an amendment to the Civil Code has already been studied in great detail.
Wednesday last week would have been a day for even greater celebration if both the court and the Legislative Yuan had opened the doors for marriage equality. This way, all of society could have celebrated, instead of letting courts decide such issues.
That is a failure that should be noted amid the celebrations for gay rights in Taiwan.
May 24 was truly a historic day for many Taiwanese and foreigners alike. Finally, I can fill in my landing card and tick the box that says: “visiting family.”
Michael Danielsen is chairman of Taiwan Corner, a Danish non-governmental organization.
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