As the 15th Taiwan LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Pride parade took place on Oct. 28, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) presented the LGBT people, who have been among her major supporters, with yet another “empty gift.”
Tsai commented on her Facebook page on the direction of related legal amendments after the Council of Grand Justices issued Constitutional Interpretation No. 748 in support of same-sex marriage, saying: “We are obligated to design a legal framework in line with the spirit of the grand justices’ interpretation, but we are also responsible for ensuring unity in society. Therefore, we will continue our efforts based on these two principles.”
I wonder how many people actually understand how to read between the lines of Tsai’s beautifully worded yet slippery statement. Will married same-sex couples enjoy the same rights as married opposite-sex couples? How long will Tsai, indeed the entire government, continue avoiding such questions? How long will Tsai continue to shirk her responsibility as president? Will they only be satisfied when social tensions rip this society apart?
The grand justices delivered their interpretation on May 24, requiring the legislature to amend the law within two years to provide guarantees for same-sex marriage. It has been almost six months since then, and not only has the government failed to come up with any draft amendments, but any form of consultation, research or debate has totally stalled.
Many are beginning to be concerned the Tsai administration has decided to take a kind of “do nothing and everything will take care of itself” approach, and wait until the issue forces itself in May 2019. Meanwhile, same-sex couples will be required to simply register as same-sex couples in household registration offices.
Perhaps some supporters of same-sex marriage think this is fine. However, if the government cannot be bothered to amend the law, and if neither administrative bodies nor the courts have made any preparations for how the law is to be applied when the time comes, one can imagine how much chaos there will be.
There is still a lot of disagreement over the exact legal ramifications of what happens after a same-sex marriage is registered. It is important for the relevant authorities to take stock of the many regulations that need to be worked out, for how the registration authorities, the relevant administrative bodies, and even the courts, will proceed when “that day” arrives, and not to allow the situation to descend into chaos when the first same-sex couples start to register. If preparations are not done beforehand, it will be a mess.
Tsai has stated that she supports marriage equality, but faced with the backlash after she became president, she has adopted a passive, defensive, wait-and-see-yet-never-concede-ground strategy.
Following the council’s ruling, the Ministry of Justice, representing the government, stated Tsai’s constitutional stance on this issue: Same-sex marriage is a legislative matter, not a constitutionally guaranteed right.
Frustrated by the court’s interpretation, she continued to prevaricate and merely committed to respecting the executive branch’s amendments. How can this be said to support same-sex marriage?
While it is only right for the government to look for possible compromises when dealing with social tensions, it does not mean doing nothing and hoping it all works out alright in the end. It means dealing with the people holding opposing stances and trying to persuade either side to come together, to attempt to dispel any misunderstandings and to form a consensus.
When this has been done, it should try to come up with a solution acceptable to both sides, to clarify its own position on the issue and take responsibility for that decision.
Look at the government’s record on following through with its assault on the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) ill-gotten assets, or its own Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program proposals. Has Tsai balked at the social tensions these have engendered or allowed them to throw her off course?
Instead, she has stood by as people with opposing views on same-sex marriage have been at each other’s throats, and thrown same-sex couples wanting to register their marriage, and the institutions that are to handle this, into disarray. This is the height of irresponsibility.
Tsai seems to have taken a leaf out of former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) book, saying that the buck stops with him, and has taken up the mantle of a reformist. If that is the case, great: So why not put a stop to the fighting between those who support and oppose same-sex marriage?
If Tsai wants to talk about how she supports same-sex marriage, she should be prepared to weather the storm and act like the buck truly does stop with her.
Bruce Liao is an associate professor of law at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Eddy Chang and Paul Cooper
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